TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr12/12)
18 April 2012
Third World Network
Battle to save UNCTAD's mandate
Published in SUNS #7351 dated 17 April 2012
Geneva, 16 Apr (Martin Khor*) -- On the eve of its thirteenth session,
the Ministerial conference known as UNCTAD XIII, a major battle is under
way at UNCTAD to preserve its mandate to work on key areas, especially
macro-economic and finance issues.
A serious impasse emerged last week in the preparatory committee of
UNCTAD XIII, which is tasked with preparing the draft outcome document
that Ministers are scheduled to adopt at the end of UNCTAD XIII.
While the previous two or three conferences were rather tame affairs,
it looks like UNCTAD XIII (whose general theme is development-centred
globalization) will be fiery, with the organisation's future scope of
work and influence at stake.
UNCTAD was set up in 1964 to support developing countries to strengthen
their weak position in international economic structures, and to design
national development strategies.
It became a kind of secretariat on behalf of developing countries, providing
a small pro-development balance to the huge organisations dominated
by the developed countries, such as the OECD, the IMF and World Bank.
In the past two decades, however, the developed countries have tried
to curb the pro-South orientation of the UNCTAD secretariat and its
many reports. The inter-governmental discussions became less significant,
while UNCTAD's pro-development mission was increasingly challenged by
the developed countries.
This unhealthy trend seemed to have subsided in the past decade, but
in the past two months, the meetings in Geneva to prepare for UNCTAD
XIII, some developed countries have reportedly attempted to dilute the
areas of future work of UNCTAD, to the frustration of the G77 and China.
Last week's meetings at the preparatory committee ended in a near crisis,
with the countries unable to agree on how to proceed with some key issues
and with a draft of the outcome document.
At the committee's meeting on 13 April, a major dispute arose over whether
the Doha outcome should "reaffirm" the mandate given to UNCTAD
at the previous session (UNCTAD XII held in Accra in 2008, which adopted
the Accra Accord).
The G77 and China proposed reaffirming the Accra Accord, and normally
this would have been accepted as a matter of routine.
However, a group of developed countries opposed the term "reaffirm".
Instead, they wanted language to "build on" the Accra accord.
This caused frustration to the members of the G77 and China, which saw
the move as an attempt to take away some of the issues that UNCTAD is
working on. Refusal to reaffirm the Accra accord seemed to be another
measure to chip away at the influence of UNCTAD and its support for
Speaking on behalf of the G77 and China, Ambassador Pisanu Chanvitan
of Thailand regretted that the accommodative stance of the group had
been viewed as weakness or capitulation. (See separate story on G77
and China statement.)
The group has hoped that the global economic and financial crisis marks
once and for all the end of the bad old days, and perhaps the dawn of
an international regime of global economic governance based on the highest
principles and ideals of the United Nations, including sovereignty,
equality, and mutual respect.
"Instead, we see behaviour that seems to indicate a desire for
the dawn of a new neocolonialism. We cannot, we will not, accept this."
The G77 and China believed that UNCTAD XIII can contribute to a new
beginning, and that the theme of development-centred globalization could
articulate a vision of development based on equality and equal respect
"Unfortunately, the developing countries feel increasingly marginalised
by our partners especially when they seem to deny us our own priorities."
The Thai Ambassador stressed that the Accra Accord must be reaffirmed.
And while the G77 and China had already made "incredible compromises",
it now proposed that at the minimum the Doha conference could adopt
the compromise text that the President of the Trade and Development
Board (Ambassador Mothae Maruping of Lesotho) had issued in the first
week of April.
This was a 22-page President's text that had drawn from a thick compilation
document containing proposed language from all members.
The G77 and China said its development partners (referring to developed
countries) may mistakenly think that the question is whether there will
be an outcome document, and added that: "Let us assure our partners
that there will be an outcome document", but the question is whether
there will be a positive spirit that leads to a consensus document.
In response, a group of developed countries regretted that they were
being painted as being on the "bad side" and asked that their
proposals be not "engineered always as a weapon in a North-South
The impasse, so close to the start of UNCTAD XIII, has given rise to
discussions on whether the Doha conference will result in a consensus-based
outcome, or whether the developing countries would resort to proposing
a vote on a document it puts forward. A vote on a G77 and China document
is considered a last resort, since the normal procedure is to adopt
a consensus document.
It would appear that whether the Doha outcome will reaffirm the Accra
Accord has become the most important political issue at this point of
the negotiations. It is understood that there is widespread agreement
that the outcome document will be based on negotiations on the President's
The G77 and China are however adamant that this text, which they consider
already too much watered down from the group's own proposed text, should
not be diluted further.
The preparatory committee will resume its negotiations on 16 April afternoon.
The battle in the UNCTAD XIII preparatory process is being monitored
with a sense of serious concern.
An influential group of 50 former senior UNCTAD staff issued a joint
statement criticizing efforts by major developed countries to reduce
UNCTAD's mandate and deny it the right to continue to analyse global
macroeconomic issues from a development perspective.
The signatories included former UNCTAD Secretary-General Rubens Ricupero,
two former deputy Secretaries-General, Carlos Fortin and Jan Pronk,
and several Directors. (See SUNS #7349 dated 13 April 2012.)
(* Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre.) +
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