TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr12/17)
25 April 2012
Third World Network

Main political issues cleared, text makes progress

by Third World Network

Agreement was reached on two of the most important issues at the UNCTAD XIII as delegates raced against the clock to produce an outcome document by the scheduled closing tomorrow afternoon.

The breakthrough on the two paragraphs came in the early evening of 24 April at the closed-door meeting of Ambassadors and senior officials (known as the 236 process, named after Room 236 where the meeting is taking place) after tense and sometimes heated negotiations.

Both of the paragraphs deal with the overall mandate and future work of UNCTAD.

The agreed paragraph 16 states: “The Accra Accord pursued a constructive trade and development agenda, and was anchored by the three pillars of UNCTAD of policy analysis, consensus building and technical cooperation. The outcomes of UNCTAD III reaffirm and build upon the Accra Accord which remains valid and relevant.”

The agreed paragraph 17 states: “UNCTAD remains the focal point in the United Nations for the integrated treatment of trade and development, and interrelated issues in the areas of finance, technology, investment and sustainable development. UNCTAD should continue to work within its mandate – through its three pillars, delivering meaningful results, utilising available resources, while enhancing synergies and promoting complementarities with the work of other international organisations.”

The understanding on the two paragraphs came after some wrangling between the representatives of developing countries (led by the G77 and China and the regional groupings) and developed countries (whose main groupings are JZ and the EU).

On 24 April morning, the developing countries proposed that the negotiations should now focus on these two politically important issues that address the overall mandate and work of UNCTAD, instead of proceeding first on other more technical issues.

Their representatives did not want the political issues to be discussed at the very end, as they wanted to avoid a highly charged situation late at night on the eve of the closing day (the conference started on 21 April and will end on 26 April).

They also argued that there was little point in discussing more specific issues first, unless the deadlock on the political issues was first settled. “We wanted to know whether there is the basis for an outcome document in the first place,” said the Ambassador of a developing country, who has been heavily involved in the negotiations.

The developing countries’ proposal was agreed to before the lunch break. However when the meeting resumed, one of the developed countries said that Paras 16 and 17 could only be dealt with after two other sensitive issues were settled, the paragraphs on UNCTAD’s assistance to the occupied Palestine territory, and on unilateral measures. This elicited a strong reaction by the developing countries, which insisted that the two political paragraphs be dealt with as agreed, without conditions. This debate, which was reportedly heated, took some time. Meanwhile, bilateral discussions between the United States and Cuba resolved the issue of unilateral measures, while bilateral discussions involving the Palestinian delegates also resolved the Palestine issue.

The negotiations on the two paragraphs proceeded, and agreement on them was reached quite rapidly, by about 7 pm.

The agreed texts of paras 16 and 17 were widely seen as a victory for the G77 and China. It was also welcomed by the many NGOs that have been present at UNCTAD XIII and were lobbying for the reaffirmation of the Accra Accord.

The G77 and China had made reaffirming the Accra Accord the most important “red line” of its UNCTAD XIII mission.

Usually the reaffirmation in a UN conference of the declaration adopted in previous conferences is a matter of routine. But when the G77 proposal for such a reaffirmation of the Accra Accord was opposed by JZ (the grouping that includes the US, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Norway), this became the trigger for a crisis in the UNCTAD XIII preparatory process in Geneva.

The G77 and China coordinator, the Ambassador of Thailand, made a strong statement on 13 April in Geneva proclaiming that the group had already made many concessions and would not compromise further, and that reaffirming Accra and accepting the President’s “distillation” draft was its final demand.

The crisis atmosphere surrounding the reaffirmation (or not) of the Accra Accord resumed when the negotiations on the outcome document started in Doha.

There was a significant sense of relief when news came out of Room 236 that an understanding had been reached on para 16. The agreed text, which was based on the language given by the Chair of the Committee of the Whole, Ambassador M. Maruping of Lesotho, was a success for the G77 and China, as it not only reaffirmed the Accra Accord but elaborated that the Accord remains “valid and relevant.”

Delegates understand this to mean that the UNCTAD Secretariat has been given the green light to continue its activities and areas of work that had been mandated by the Accra Accord of UNCTAD XII in 2008.

Consequently, other paragraphs in the Doha outcome document can add to but not detract from the existing mandate provided by UNCTAD XII as laid out in the Accra Accord.

Thus if the aim of the JZ group was to erode or dilute the mandate of UNCTAD by withholding the reaffirmation of the Accra Accord, that aim has not succeeded.

With regard to Para 17, there was also a proposal by the JZ group that would have curtailed the scope of work of UNCTAD by confining the work to be within its “core” mandate, within its existing capacities and resources, and that these activities should deliver tangible results for specified needs and with measurable impact.” JZ also proposed that UNCTAD’s work should eliminate duplication with the respective mandates of other UN entities and other relevant international organisations.

The many conditions placed on UNCTAD’s future work could have hindered the organisation’s freedom and space.

The agreed text on Para 17 however was much more positive. Firstly it reiterates the role of UNCTAD as the UN focal point for integrated treatment and interrelated issues, and secondly it only states that UNCTAD should promote complementarities with other organisations. Thus the constraints that would have been imposed by the proposed JZ language have not been placed.

With the two most difficult paragraphs cleared, the negotiations in the two processes (the 236 process of Ambassadors on “difficult issues” and the Committee of the Whole negotiations on “mild issues”) made considerable progress on Tuesday (24 April).

At 6 pm Doha time, some of the more contentious issues that are not yet settled include the issues of UNCTAD’s role on the financial crisis, technology transfer, intellectual property rights, regional trade agreements, competition policy, climate change, green economy and middle income countries.

Delegates and UNCTAD officials are, however, confident that there will be an agreed outcome document by the closing on 26 April afternoon.