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TRADE: UNCTAD Meeting to Address Growth in Emerging Powers

Francis Kokutse

ACCRA, Apr 21 2008 (IPS) - The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) meeting currently underway in Accra, Ghana, takes place amid rising global fears that global financial turmoil and economic slowdown in the developed countries would affect economic growth in the developing world.

The meeting, which was opened yesterday, is the first major UN conference to be held in Ghana and, indeed, in West Africa. The general debate at the conference is expected to open this afternoon and conclude on April 24.

Coming after the last meeting in Brazil four years ago, developing countries have high expectations for what the outcome should be.

United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon told a recent meeting of UNCTAD’s trade development board that the international community has a ‘‘special duty’’ to extend recently promising economic growth to the ‘‘poorest of the poor’’.

‘‘Accra must also articulate an effective strategy to leverage globalisation, trade and investment for poverty reduction and economic growth,’’ the secretary general added. He said the Accra conference is a good place to advance this aim by galvanising support for a more development-friendly global economic, trading and financial system.

Ban said the UN’s role is to role is to use globalisation to reduce poverty. He identified the year 2008 as ‘‘the year of the bottom billion’’, pointing out that globalisation is still leaving the extreme poor behind, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

The UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which include halving extreme poverty by 2015, will not be met at current rates of progress.

Ghana’s minister of trade and private sector development, Joe Baidoe-Ansah, says the five days meeting would permit decision makers to tackle current and pressing issues such as energy, migration and the emergence of developing countries as engines of economic growth.

Baidoe-Ansah said by working together to address these challenges, ‘‘UNCTAD member States will seek to identify appropriate policy responses as well as specific measures and actions’’.

He said with Ghana as host, ‘‘the conference offers an opportunity to put the spotlight on Africa’s role in the international economy and highlight matters of special concern to African countries. This is particularly needed, given that too many people in Africa are not sharing in the gains of globalisation.’’

During the signing of the host country agreement on December 18 last year, Baidoe-Ansah underlined the Ghanaian government’s commitment to a successful meeting that combines efficiency with a warm welcome.

UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said proposals recently submitted by Ban to the UN General Assembly to strengthen the ‘‘development pillar’’ of the UN and to ‘‘address the critical capacity gaps faced by the Secretariat, including UNCTAD’’ are welcomed by UNCTAD.

These proposals should help the organisation advance its work and expand its resources. He described UNCTAD’s role as ‘‘helping countries accelerate development and poverty reduction by maximising gains from globalisation’’.

Panitchpakdi said the conference comes as global uncertainties threaten the most promising economic growth in 30 years in the developing world. He said, ‘‘UNCTAD’s mandate is more important than ever in today’s context of deepening interdependence’’.

In a statement on the conference, the UNCTAD secretariat said ‘‘during the past half decade, developing countries have averaged economic growth of five percent or more, and the international landscape has tilted with the emergence of economic heavyweights outside the industrialised west, including China, India and Brazil’’.

The statement said the world economic outlook hinges strongly on whether those developing countries which have increased trade will have enough momentum to become less vulnerable to downturns in North America and Western Europe.

‘‘A related problem to be scrutinised in Accra is the seeming paradox that, despite high growth in Asia, Latin America and Africa, only limited reductions in poverty have been achieved especially in the world’s least developed countries (LDCs),” the statement added.

Among other things, UNCTAD XII’s agenda include addressing the opportunities and challenges of globalisation for development. It will also seek to enhance sustainable economic development and poverty reduction through global policymaking.

Key trade and development issues and the new realities of the world economy are on the agenda. Delegates are also expected to discuss the enhancement of productive capacity and trade and investment.

Another key issue to be discussed is the strengthening of UNCTAD: enhancing its developmental role and its impact and institutional effectiveness.

The conference is chaired by the UN secretary general and moderated by the UNCTAD secretary general.

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