Outcome an important success, says UNCTAD Secretary-General
In thanking the UNCTAD XIII participants in his closing remarks, UNCTAD chief Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi commented that the determination and perseverance that had been displayed in their engagement were a reflection of the belief that a truly important issue was at stake.
THE UNCTAD XIII outcome document represents a significant achievement and an important success which is much more than just a minimum outcome, said UNCTAD Secretary-General Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi on the closing day of the UNCTAD conference.
Supachai was speaking at the closing plenary of the Committee of the Whole, comprising all member states, which had been tasked with negotiating the outcome document. He spoke just after the Committee's President, Ambassador Mothae Maruping of Lesotho, had gavelled the adoption of the Doha outcome document.
Supachai congratulated the President for midwifing the new baby, in reference to the document. He said that like all new babies, it is rather awkward. On first look, it appears to be very much a child of our times: conflicted, complicated, at times deeply uncertain. But it has very good genes; a rough but broad profile; 194 committed parents; and, therefore, enormous potential.
He added: 'I believe that this outcome document represents a significant achievement. Considering the distance that had to be closed in just five days, reaching any agreed outcome was a formidable challenge, and producing any consensually agreed document would have been an important success. But I do not think you have produced just the minimum feasible outcome. You have done more. Much more, in my opinion.'
First, said Supachai, there has been deep debate on UNCTAD's mandate, the relevance of its post-Accra scope of work, the risks of trying to do much, the risks of not doing enough, the urgent necessity of doing whatever is done very well - well enough, ultimately, to change the world.
Said Supachai: 'Like many of you, I have also reflected on UNCTAD's original mandate from the General Assembly: "To serve as the focal point of the United Nations system for the integrated treatment of trade and development and interrelated issues of finance, technology, investment and sustainable development", as the outcome says in paragraph 17.'
'These are capacious words, or maybe audacious words. To embrace them is to take on a major responsibility. And you have embraced them - perhaps with far greater awareness than your predecessors did. This is fundamental.
'The words of UNCTAD's mandate really can be understood to include almost any aspect of international economic relations. So it is wise and necessary that we come together every four years to debate and reflect, to push and push back, topic by topic, asking: What does this mandate mean today, given the changes that have taken place and that are foreseeable in the coming 48 months; how have our understandings of trade, of development, and of the interrelated aspects of finance, technology, investment, and sustainable development evolved? What does it mean to pursue an integrated treatment? What have we done well? How do we know we have done well? How much is too much? How much is necessary to be done, must be done?'
Scope of work
Supachai said that at Accra, there was a lot of discussion about UNCTAD's scope of work, and even before the financial crisis turned the world upside-down, there was a lot of concern that maybe it was trying to do too much. These same concerns pressed with far greater urgency during the preparation for UNCTAD XIII and then at Doha, as UNCTAD had been challenged by circumstances to become engaged in new or expanded institutions, such as the G20, where it had been called to provide substantive inputs on macroeconomic issues and had played a leading role in discussion of investment policy in relation to development.
Added Supachai: 'As countries look more and more to the United Nations to take a more active role in global economic policy coordination and governance, we have been called to lead major new UN system coordinating efforts on trade and development and productive capacities, on climate finance, on responsible lending and borrowing, on commodity price volatility, on the trade and investment implications of sustainable development and of green economy.
'At the same time, we have been beefing up and are constantly being urged to do more work on South-South trade and investment, on mainstreaming gender perspectives in development, to give just three examples. Countries say to us, in effect, "UNCTAD, you have been talking up industrial policy for decades, when everyone else said they were a very bad idea. Now that even the World Bank is reconsidering its views on industrial policy, can you walk the walk and show us how to do it?"
'Developing countries are also asking us to help them formulate more effective strategies for regional financial and monetary cooperation, on making national banking systems more effect[ive] as drivers of development, on developing effective approaches for fostering enterprise development, especially for employment generating SMEs. They are asking us to convene inter-regional discussions on regional trade agreements and development corridors - and in so doing to provide the appropriate analytical and data support.
'And don't forget, we are the focal point for the UN system on all trade issues in their relation to development; on science, technology and innovation in relation to development; and on commodities, which remain fundamentally important to a large majority of developing countries, especially, but not only, the LDCs. And speaking of the LDCs, I think everyone will agree that it is UNCTAD's research and analysis that still drives international discussion of the special challenges of the LDCs and the most effective strategies for addressing those challenges.
'If UNCTAD focused only on any one of these issues, it still would be hard to see how our roughly 400 people could really perform the task. So to me, it really is fair to ask, how are we going to do all of this work well? Why is UNCTAD involved in this or that issue? Why can't we just leave it to others? What is UNCTAD's comparative advantage?
'We should also be asking: How can we build relationships and partnerships that leverage our global perspective, our accumulated experience, and our intellectual capital? How do we reconcile our hard-earned and our fiercely defended reputation for independence with honest accounting for performance and impact?
'Yes, our debates have been motivated by interests. We are here as representatives of nation-states, not as disinterested scholars. Yes, you have often been passionate in your exchanges, and, yes, things have been said that might have been better left unsaid.
'And yet you have all agreed to preserve and build upon UNCTAD's ambitious scope of work. That you have engaged so determinedly and that you have persevered so doggedly suggests that you believe something truly important was at stake. These are indications of seriousness of purpose.'
Supachai thanked everyone for their effort to make UNCTAD a stronger institution, and especially thanked the President of the Committee of the Whole, Ambassador Maruping, whose 'wise and tolerant ways have been truly inspirational'.
The Secretary-General said that 'today marks an end to the anticipation, and a beginning to the real work. The text you have produced is merely the beginning of the next chapter in UNCTAD's history, a chapter that all of us will need to write together.' - TWN
This article is reproduced from the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS, No. 7359, 27 April 2012), which is published by the Third World Network.
*Third World Resurgence No. 260, April 2012, pp 18-19