UNCTAD and civil society: Towards our common goals
On 7-8 February, a variety of organisations of civil society held an NGO Plenary Caucus in Bangkok to express their concerns and formulate their own proposals on the issues to be deliberated at UNCTAD X the following week. We publish below their recommendations to the member governments of UNCTAD.
WE, organisations of civil society meeting at an NGO Plenary Caucus held in Bangkok on 7-8 February 2000, welcome the holding of UNCTAD X and would like to put forward a number of proposals that have resulted from our deliberations.
We wish, at the outset, to make explicit the values, aspirations, and concerns that we share as civil society organisations, many of which are also shared by member governments of UNCTAD. It was such concerns that civil society and some governments had in common in the recent and historic processes in Seattle.
We oppose the promotion and imposition of neoliberal theories and programmes incorporating liberalisation, selective deregulation, privatisation and the commercialisation of all aspects of human life and endeavours. And we are opposed to the usurping of the roles of national governments and citizens' democratic rights by global institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, and the WTO.
Instead, we propose the development of a system of global governance that respects local democratic prerogatives and is based on global conventions agreed to at the United Nations. The principles of such a pluralistic and participatory form of international governance must constitute the over-arching principles and regulatory frameworks within which all global, regional, national and local governmental institutions and corporations, and all people, should cooperate.
These fundamental principles must be based on the primacy of human rights obligations, which include the principles of non-discrimination, progressive realisation and non-retrogression. Such a system must also include the principles of diversity and holistic and integrated development, based not only on economic but also on political, social, gender, cultural and environmental dimensions. These must promote human cooperation and the basic needs of people, as opposed to the neoliberal promotion of untrammelled competition and a race to the bottom.
These principles promote institutional deconcentration and decentralisation of power and devolved decision-making at global, regional, national and local levels. They also seek to foster greater transparency and accountability. The methods and means are as important as the aims of all development strategies. These means are not only intellectual efforts and policy debates, but include changing power relations in all institutions and sectors and at all levels of society. This, in turn, demands the empowering and mobilising of ever wider numbers of people and the building of coalitions of popular organisations and international alliances.
The challenge to UNCTAD
UNCTAD can play a critical role in shaping a more equitable and democratic world. UNCTAD's research and analysis has already played a key role in exposing the negative effects of globalisation and suggesting alternative policies for addressing them.
However, UNCTAD's approach must now be made more fully consistent with its development mandate. The core UNCTAD assumption that full, albeit gradual, integration of developing countries in the world economy is the way to prosperity must be questioned in light of the many negative consequences of globalisation - which are so painfully evident in many countries. UNCTAD's analysis must also incorporate human rights approaches to economic governance, and advances in ecological and feminist economics that propose a different paradigm from neoliberal economics, by subordinating narrow efficiency to the values of social reproduction and solidarity, social and gender equity, and environmental integrity.
In addition, UNCTAD should pay greater attention to the great diversity of existing economic practices that emphasise cooperation, rather than competition-driven economic relations.
In seeking external intellectual advice and input, UNCTAD should also reverse its tendency to consult mainly with experts based in Northern research institutions, and seek greater input from developing country-based researchers, scholars and thinkers.
UNCTAD must also focus on internal social transformation in the economies of countries in both the North and the South. In particular, it should encourage countries to ensure the right to a dignified and adequate basic livelihood income for each person. However, the implications of UNCTAD's analysis of growing inequalities not only between but also within nations North and South, have not led to any meaningful political debate and initiative by its member states.
The absence of significant attention to internal social transformation owes itself to a simplistic North-South model of international relations that ignores social contradictions cutting across the North-South divide. UNCTAD must see itself as representing the interests of marginalised people in both the North and the South.
Proposals for UNCTAD
International trade and investment rules promoted by the dominant global economic institutions are aimed at creating a 'evel playing field' between all economic players, irrespective of their scale and economic power. This understanding of 'non-discrimination' in national treatment provisions assumes that equal rules should apply to very unequal players. So far, this tendency has only been resisted through 'special and differential treatment' provisions, which, in the WTO, most often do not have contractual status and rely on artificial and arbitrary time frames unrelated to need and capacity.
We call for a human rights application of 'non-discrimination', which is premised on the need for affirmative action by the state to protect and promote vulnerable groups and sectors to avoid discrimination and further marginalisation. In other words, these measures are not a special favour granted to developing countries and their citizens, but are fundamental components of their right to development.
On this basis, and with the support of civil society organisations, UNCTAD could play a catalytic role in launching an international movement aimed at ensuring that international economic policies and rules are not allowed to supersede national, regional and international measures designed to protect and promote all human rights - including the right to development and widely-held social and environmental objectives. It would therefore reassert its capacity to counter-act what are in effect 'development-distorting' trade and investment policies.
For this to happen, UNCTAD should:
* Undertake independent monitoring and assessments, disaggregated below the national level, of the developmental, social, gender and environmental impacts of trade/investment liberalisation and globalisation, and formulate proposals for addressing these problems.
* Undertake, in cooperation with other UN agencies, independent impact assessments of intellectual property regimes such as TRIPS on food security, development, health and technology transfer.
* Undertake with the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) and the WTO, a comprehensive assessment of the impact of the WTO's Agreement on Agriculture and its Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures.
* Undertake independent analysis, from a development perspective, of new proposals in areas such as labour, finance, investment, government procurement and competition, building on its on-going work such as that of the Trade and Development Report (TDR).
* Ensure that its work on foreign direct investment (FDI), transnational corporations (TNCs) and financial flows, particularly the World Investment Report, is more independent and critical of the development impact of FDI, and more coherent with analytical work in other areas like the TDR.
* Approach with extreme caution proposals for any multilateral, regional or bilateral investment agreement, given the frequently negative impact of FDI and other forms of capital flows on peoples' welfare, national sovereignty and development.
* Educate and encourage its member states to frame national antitrust policy and laws that would serve to empower small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and protect consumers against excessive market power of TNCs.
* Promote improved corporate governance and corporate transparency by encouraging the use of acceptable standards for financial, environmental, social, and ethical accounting, auditing and reporting; and, in addition, call on all member governments to adopt effective anti-corruption measures.
* Address imbalances and inequities of existing trade agreements, as well as problems relating to the implementation of such agreements, with a view to achieving the best options for the developmental and social needs of people in developing countries.
* Monitor the compatibility of trade agreements with other obligations undertaken by governments under UN treaties such as on human rights, environment, women and labour.
* Establish an Intergovernmental Group of Experts to discuss issues pertaining to consumer policy.
* Conduct an audit of the origins of the financial debts of developing countries and a parallel study of the historical and contemporary social and ecological debt owed by the North to the South.
* Encourage its member governments to submit a formal request to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on the legality of external debts of developing countries.
In all these areas, UNCTAD's work must be firmly rooted within its development mandate.
In order to strengthen the role, contribution and scrutiny of civil society in the work of the organisation, UNCTAD must open up to civil society participation in its official deliberations including in the Trade and Development Board, the commissions and expert groups, on issues such as competition policy, investment and consumer protection. To this end, UNCTAD must follow the lead of ECOSOC (the Economic and Social Council) and review and extend its procedures and arrangements for granting consultative status to national civil society organisations.
In addition, UNCTAD should deepen and strengthen its commitment towards and report on the involvement of civil society as agreed at UNCTAD IX.
Furthermore,UNCTAD could develop dynamic partnerships with civil society organisations to strengthen its outreach capacity at the national level, notably by fostering public and parliamentary debates around its policy proposals. This could be an important component to democratising economic governance in both developed and developing countries, and would contribute to making trade and finance ministries accountable to the wider social development objectives that economic policy should serve.
We hope UNCTAD X will consider the aforementioned recommendations, the implementation of which will contribute to the achievement of the common goals of equity, democracy, and sustainability that are shared by civil society, the member governments of UNCTAD and its secretariat.