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Future of UNCTAD in Balance at Doha

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GENEVA, Apr 25 2012 (IPS) - Profound discord between industrialised nations and developing countries is threatening to ruin the UNCTAD meeting being held this week in Doha, and may even endanger the survival of this United Nations body that defends the interests of the developing nations of the South.

If there is failure to reach agreement, it will be perceived as the end of the debate on development and also the end of this body itself, warned the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, a Thai economist and politician.

Disagreements between the blocs, broadly identified as countries of the North and of the South, arise mainly from differing views of UNCTAD’s mandate and different visions of development and how it relates to social, environmental, economic and financial variables.

For example, industrialised countries have rejected out of hand giving UNCTAD a remit to investigate the current global financial crisis and its effects on the real economy, diplomatic sources in the capital of Qatar who requested anonymity told IPS.

On Saturday Apr. 21 at the conference’s inaugural session, 37 international and 137 national NGOs sent a message to participating governments, titled “Strengthen, don’t weaken, UNCTAD’s role in global governance” , highlighting the important role played by UNCTAD “in identifying the key causes” of the global crisis originating in 2008.

UNCTAD has assisted developing countries in seeking solutions to the impacts of the crisis, and has advocated the reform of global economic and finance policies in order to prevent similar crises from recurring, the NGOs said.


“UNCTAD is well known for having predicted the crisis in advance, a fact that is to be commended, particularly given its paucity of resources compared to institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which failed to do so,” the message says.

Signatories of the message to the governments at the UNCTAD meeting include ActionAid International, the African Trade Network, the Arab NGO Network for Development, CIDSE – an international alliance of 16 Catholic development agencies – , the European Network on Debt and Development, and Friends of the Earth International.

The Hemispheric Social Alliance, the International Trade Union Confederation, Oxfam International, Public Services International, the Third World Network, the Transnational Institute and the World Council of Churches also signed the declaration.

In the negotiations of the conference’s outcome document, UNCTAD’s role is being defended by China and the Group of 77 (G77), the developing world bloc that came into being as a result of the first UNCTAD conference, held in Geneva in 1964, and today is made up of 132 member countries.

The G77 maintained that UNCTAD was established in response to the current and emerging challenges faced by developing countries, and underscored the need to strengthen the role of the U.N. in international economic and financial governance.

In contrast, the European Union has attempted to eliminate a paragraph from the outcome document that refers to UNCTAD’s role in contributing to U.N. investigations of the causes and effects of the global economic crisis.

In addition to the EU, industrialised countries at the Doha conference are represented by the JUSCANZ (JZ) group, made up of Japan, the United States, Switzerland, South Korea, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Liechtenstein.

Both the EU and JZ are demanding the elimination of two paragraphs from the draft text, one on the global crisis and one on the link between the financial sector and the real economy.

They are also opposed to a reference to the need to regulate financial markets and to adopt mechanisms to prevent and overcome crises.

Supachai’s view clashed with that of the industrialised country groups, as his report, presented to the conference on Saturday, warned against the dangers of globalisation and development processes driven by international finance.

The disagreements between developing and industrialised countries are even more acute in the debate about the accords reached at the previous UNCTAD session four years ago, held in Accra, Ghana.

The G77 wants to reaffirm and strengthen the Accra Accord, so that UNCTAD can continue with its present work, following the direction laid down by its secretariat.

But the JZ wants all reference to reaffirming the Accra agreement eliminated from the outcome document, and proposes that the accord be reviewed.

The industrialised countries also reject paragraphs about the management and resolution of national debts, the responsibilities of lenders and borrowers, and an orderly solution to the debt crisis.

The JZ group opposed a section of text ratifying the continuance of UNCTAD services for the Global System of Trade Preferences Among Developing Countries (GSTP), the first scheme of preferential trade between nations of the South.

The GSTP was created in 1988 and comprises 42 countries and the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, which are also individual members of the global system.

The industrialised countries are also questioning the assistance UNCTAD provides developing nations on the negotiation of regional trade agreements and their consequences.

The JZ group wants to delete reference in the outcome document to the role of industrialisation policies in development processes.

It also wants to alter text saying foreign direct investment should contribute to development according to the priorities and laws of recipient countries, insisting that it simply state that developing nations need to attract investment.

The sources at the Doha meeting said the industrialised world’s initiatives would deprive UNCTAD of any participation on trade and environment issues, as well as in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June, and on work in the area of the green economy and research on climate and development.

On intellectual property rights in relation to development, the EU and JZ requested the deletion of a reference to UNCTAD’s role in research into benefit sharing in the areas of traditional knowledge and genetic resources.

The industrialised countries are making extremely high demands, and they will not accept leaving Doha empty-handed on Thursday Apr. 26 when the 13th UNCTAD session ends, the sources said.

Therefore, Supachai’s fears about the possible fate of UNCTAD may not be exaggerated, they said.

 
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