UNCTAD chief's caution on extending trade `frontiers'

SINGAPORE 9 DECEMBER: In a carefully worded statement at the plenary of the WTO Ministerial Conference here, the UNCTAD Secretary-General, sounded a note of caution against using the WTO system to deal with non-trade objectives, in short, as a powerful device of global governance.

Speaking also on behalf of UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UNCTAD head, Rubens Ricupero, warned that such an approach could "destabilize" the balance of rights and obligations which forms the bedrock of the trading system.

The Ricupero speech, sounding a note of caution, came at the end of the first day's plenary and was sandwiched between the speeches of the IMF Managing Director, Michel Camdessus and the World Bank's second-ranking official, Managing Director, Gautam Kaji.

Both the IMF and the World Bank preached the doctrine of liberalization and benefits to those who liberalize, and also of the cooperation agreements being signed among the three secretariats þ implying their high priest roles in the world economic system.

Gautam Kaji put the cooperation of the three secretariats in this way: "Together with the WTO-IMF Agreement, the WTO- Bank Agreement sets the stage for the three organizations to work coherently to establish a single level playing field for global trade and to assist countries in adopting open policies to support growth and eliminate poverty."

Two major concerns

"For this reason," Ricupero said, "any eventual expansion of these trade `frontiers' (into new areas) should be the result of a conscious decision of the international community as a whole, after careful consideration of two major concerns. The first is the extent to which there needs to be a balance between the mobility of goods, services, and capital, and the mobility of labour."

An additional concern, Ricupero said, related directly to the challenge posed by globalization, and whether some traditional trade instruments are relevant in a global economy in which production is scattered among many countries and is no longer a domestic process.

At the same time, it would be necessary to seek coherence between calls for contestability of markets worldwide and the belief in some quarters, that competition should be limited whenever it puts in jeopardy higher social values, such as core human and labour rights or the protection of the environment.

"If these become acceptable," Ricupero asked: "What other commonly-shared values should also be protected?"

Earlier, Ricupero spoke of the evolving cooperation between the UN system and the WTO as a welcome sign of shared perceptions of the global development challenge and of willingness to devise solutions in common. The WTO objectives þ promoting economic growth and sustainable development through trade þ was a crucial component of the new framework for international cooperation and development. (CR/SUNS3889)

  The above first appeared in the SUNS of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.