TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jul16/12)
20 July 2016
Third World Network

UNCTAD-14: Ministerial Conference gets underway in Nairobi
Published in SUNS  #8285 dated 19 July 2016

Geneva, 18 Jul (Kanaga Raja) -- The fourteenth ministerial conference of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD-14) got underway at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) on Sunday (17 July) afternoon, with opening addresses by amongst others UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Speaking first at the opening ceremony, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, said that 40 years ago, the UNCTAD membership for the first time elected to host the conference on African soil and the choice of Kenya was very significant at that time, and today 40 years later, this country is accorded the privilege again, not only to become the first African developing country to host the UNCTAD conference twice but also to be holding it at a certain critical historical moment.

[At UNCTAD-IV, held in Nairobi in 1976 (the late Gamani Corea was then the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, and the focus of that conference was on Commodities. Henry Kissinger, as US Secretary of State came to that meeting, and in his speech seemed to hold out the prospect of US cooperation in tackling commodity problems, through agreements and an UNCTAD Programme on Commodities, but made clear the commodities basket in that programme must include oil, where the OPEC countries had an export cartel. But OPEC did not agree, and Kissinger's offer failed to be followed through, though UNCTAD-IV adopted the Integrated Programme for Commodities (IPC), mooted by Corea. Developing countries are once again facing commodity problems at the time of UNCTAD 14, which again is meeting in Nairobi. SUNS]

"As we meet in Nairobi, the optimism of 2015, the optimism of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda [adopted] in July, of the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030 in September in New York, and COP21 in Paris, set out the script for us, not to make any new promises, but to seek to keep the promises already made," Kituyi said.

"We look to this meeting as the first major United Nations developmental meeting since the triple promises of 2015 to start charting the way of implementation - from decision to action," The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in his remarks at the opening.

Every four years since 1964, the UN chief said, UNCTAD sessions have provided an opportunity for United Nations Member States to work together to redress economic inequalities in trade, finance, technology and investment.

"This is the second time that an UNCTAD conference has come to Kenya. Nairobi played host to UNCTAD IV in this same conference centre, just over four decades ago."

Ban Ki-Moon said that much has changed in 40 years, but many of the challenges raised at UNCTAD IV remain on the international agenda.

The vulnerability of developing countries to volatile commodity markets was a main focus at UNCTAD IV.

Today, with a global trade slowdown and declines in commodity prices, this issue is again a hot button development issue. But beyond trade, a bigger and more complex set of questions challenges the international community, he said.

According to Ban Ki-Moon, vulnerability today derives not only from volatile markets, or from social instability, but also from a fragile global environment weakened by climate change.

UNCTAD XIV is the first major United Nations development conference since last year's landmark adoptions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The 2030 Agenda will guide global collective action for sustainable development over the next 15 years.

"The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals offer a blueprint for how the global economy, society and the environment should look in 2030, along with specific actions that will be required at global, regional and national levels. And the Addis Agenda provides a comprehensive framework for financing sustainable development."

Countries this year have just begun the challenging task of implementation, said the UN SG, adding that it is therefore fitting that the theme of UNCTAD XIV is "from decision to action".

"But the successful actions we will need over the next 15 years especially in the areas of trade, investment, technology and finance require that we tap the full potential of all actors, promote innovation and correct unsustainable trends."

The UN Secretary-General further said that there are worrying signs that people around the world are increasingly unhappy with the state of the global economy.

High inequality, stagnant incomes, not enough jobs especially for youth -- and too little cause for optimism stoke legitimate fears for the future for many in all regions.

The global trade slowdown and a lack of productive investment have sharpened the deep divides between those who have benefited from globalization, and those who continue to feel left behind.

"And rather than working to change the economic model for the better, many actual and would-be leaders are instead embracing protectionism and even xenophobia," he bemoaned.

"The vision set out in the SDGs for people, planet, prosperity and peace will not succeed if shocks and stresses in our global economic and financial system are not properly addressed. Trade must provide prosperity in ways that work for people and planet and respond to the challenges of climate change."

Ban Ki-Moon said that the regulatory frameworks governing trade, investment in agricultural production, and technology related to agricultural productivity, play a critical role.

There are more than enough savings in the global economy to drive the transformation that the SDGs call for, but our investments need to become better aligned with sustainable development.

"My message to you today is that the SDGs represent the change we need to restore people's trust in the global economy. The SDGs represent an enormous opportunity to make our economy work for dignity for all, prosperity for all and a better planet for all."

UNCTAD - with its integrated approach to trade and development - has a vital role to play in implementing the interdependent, holistic sustainable development agenda.

This 14th UNCTAD Conference must now establish how UNCTAD will contribute to meeting the challenges of achieving the SDGs.

The SDGs spell out an ambitious vision of how people and planet can benefit from a vibrant global economy.

"Today, I call on Member States to agree here in Nairobi on deeper cooperation on trade and development that will bring us closer to this vision," said Ban Ki-Moon.

"This is my last UNCTAD as Secretary-General of the United Nations. In my 10 years as Secretary-General, I have seen UNCTAD shift and adapt to the new complex challenges our world faces. It is my hope that UNCTAD XIV will provide the impetus we need to accelerate our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals," he added.

The Vice-President of Uganda, Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, speaking on behalf of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, said "we attach great importance to this conference given the gravity of the concerns it was set up to address which unfortunately still persist more than 50 years after UNCTAD was set up to specifically assist in tackling these problems and define appropriate international action."

Ssekandi said that he is glad that UNCTAD-14 is meeting on the theme 'from decision to action'. The initial momentum set by UNCTAD seems to have slackened somehow, and largely on account of ideological differences on how to address the concerns of especially the Least Developed Countries.

While UNCTAD continues to undertake quality analytical work, implementation of identified priorities is below expectations. "In effect, we make decisions but do not move to action."

The Ugandan Vice-President noted with concern that in 2015, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows to Africa declined by 7.2% and overall FDI inflows to Africa accounted for a mere 3.1% of the total global FDI inflows.

With respect to trade, another area of focus for UNCTAD and an undisputed driver of global development, the figures are very telling, he said.

In Africa, the share of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa in world merchandise exports have remained at the 1995 level of 0.5% while the Southern African Development Community increased its share marginally from 0.9% to 1.1% in 2014.

He also said that whereas trade within Africa is on the rise reaching 18% of total regional exports in 2014, compared with only 10% in 1995, it still remains far below intra-regional trade levels in other regions.

For example, in Europe, trade within the region has accounted for more than 70% of the total regional merchandise exports on average over 20 years, while in Asia over half of its total experts were sold within Asia.

"What is preventing us from trading within ourselves," he asked, adding that "we must be stead-fast in addressing infrastructural constraints and promote peaceful co-existence of our people."

He noted that South-South trade has increased steadily since 2000, reaching 52% of developing countries' total merchandise exports in 2014.

He however highlighted some disparities within this broad grouping that continue to exist. For example, developing countries' exports in 2014 were 45% of global exports against 54% for developed economies and 1% for the LDCs.

"It is therefore a mistake to continue lumping least developed countries and developed countries together and then prescribe the same solution to the problems affecting the two clearly distinct but related groups," he said.

No wonder, over the last 40 years, only four countries have been able to graduate from the least developed category, none of which has been seriously able to reduce economic vulnerabilities.

The President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, in his address said that UNCTAD-14 is being held at this conference centre which was the same venue of the fourth session of UNCTAD 40 years ago in 1976.

Since then, there have been momentous changes in the world economy, changes which present both challenges but changes which also represent opportunities. Many issues on the agenda in 1976 "still demand our attention forty years later."

Now, as then commodities are still a key issue, he said.

"Since 1976, most of our nations have also undergone social, economic and political transformation occasioned by the various forces including those of globalization and the rise of information and communication technologies."

"But if our ultimate objective and aim is prosperity and freedom for all our people, then we must accept that we still have much more work to do," he said.

President Kenyatta said that UNCTAD-14 is the first major conference after the adoption of some truly historic agreements in 2015, "agreements which promise to secure the prosperity that we seek."

In this context, he referred to the third Financing for Development conference held in Addis Ababa last July, the Agenda 2030 and the 17 SDGs and 168 targets adopted in September, and the Paris deal on climate change in December, as well as the adoption of the Nairobi package at the tenth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation.

"UNCTAD-14 is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to exchange views on how these milestone decisions can be translated into action, because decisions without actions are meaningless," he said.

Referring to the UNCTAD-14 outcome document, he said that this document will outline UNCTAD's work for the next four years.

"Indeed it is our view that the mandate of UNCTAD should be strengthened, so that it can play a more meaningful role in the implementation of our new global agenda. The huge responsibilities which members have entrusted UNCTAD in 1964 are even more relevant today than ever before," he said.

The Kenya President, in conclusion, said he remains confident that "this conference will deliver successful outcomes for the global economy and for our sustainable development." +