Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jul16/17)
21 July 2016
Third World Network
UNCTAD-14: UNCTAD's integrated approach must be strengthened, say
Published in SUNS #8287 dated 21 July 2016
Nairobi, 20 Jul (Kanaga Raja) -- It is absolutely critical to continue
and strengthen the integrated approach of the UN Conference on Trade
and Development (UNCTAD) to the evolution and management of globalization
and to the interdependence of trade, finance, investment and technology
as they affect the growth and development prospects of developing
This was among the key demand and recommendations of over 400 civil
society organisations (CSOs) that participated in the Civil Society
Forum of the UNCTAD-14 conference that took place here from 15-17
July, just as the main conference got underway on Sunday (17 July).
In a Civil Society Declaration to UNCTAD-14, the CSOs said that with
its focus on the interdependence of trade, finance, investment, macroeconomics
and technology as they affect the growth and development prospects
of developing countries, UNCTAD is uniquely positioned to contribute
to the global achievement of the ambitious commitments made by all
countries in 2015 in the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development,
as well as the financing for development process (which the Third
International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa
continued in 2015), the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change and the Tenth Ministerial Meeting of
the World Trade Organization.
"However, to live up to its name and promises, UNCTAD's role
must remain development-centred, oriented by South priorities and
not subordinated to the liberalization goals of other institutions,"
The CSOs noted that the ramifications of the 2008 global financial
and economic crisis, the worst in the post-war period, still haunt
"Economic performance remains sluggish in all regions, further
reducing opportunities for addressing the material needs of the vast
and growing majorities of the poor and vulnerable. The phenomenal
levels of inequality among and within nations, linked to the very
types of economic activity that led to the crisis, have grown even
sharper in its aftermath and through the inequitable measures adopted
by many Governments in response to the crisis."
Added to these are the escalating climate-related and humanitarian
crises, and natural disasters arising from global systems of production
and patterns of consumption, which threaten the very survival of humanity.
In far too many developing countries, neoliberal policies have served
to reinforce the structures that their economies inherited from colonialism:
dependence on the export of (a narrow basket of hardly processed)
primary commodities; little or no domestic manufacturing industrial
capacity; stagnation of the rural economy; wanton extraction of natural
resources; and reliance on fossil fuel and other harmful energy systems.
They remain vulnerable to external shocks while, internally, unremitting
rural collapse continues to drive levels of urbanization unrelated
to the expansion of economic opportunity and/or investment in social
and economic infrastructure, said the CSO Declaration.
For the majority of people, especially for women and marginalized
groups and communities, this has meant joblessness, precarious and
degraded livelihoods, diminished opportunities for self-fulfilment,
lack of access to essential services such as health and education,
unsafe environments and damaged local ecosystems.
At the same time, fabulous wealth continues to concentrate in the
hands of narrow circles of national elites and global corporate forces
that together dominate political processes and exercise control over
"The specific developmental challenges that UNCTAD sought to
address are still with us, and in some cases (such as the African
region) have become more acute," said the CSOs.
These are the challenges posed by the structural imbalances of the
global order characterized at one pole by a concentration of highly
industrialized economies, and at the other pole by a mass of primary
commodity export-dependent economies feeding the needs of the industrial
This system produces immense prosperity for some, while generating
poverty, constraining the well-being of vast majorities in the developing
world, and intensifying environmental and climate crises.
"UNCTAD provides a critical institutional framework and a unique
forum for taking up the challenges of equitable development, thanks
to its make-up and orientation, its rich history of policy interventions
on behalf of developing countries and the abiding relevance of the
issues for which it was founded," said the CSOs.
The organization's foundational vision is as critical today as it
was 50 years ago, when it was established as a platform for thought
and action on broad issues of trade and development explicitly formulated
around the challenges and perspectives of the vulnerable and marginalized
majority of nations within the international system, and the people
"Its foundational principles continue to drive the work of UNCTAD.
Its values, understandings, perspectives and accumulated outcomes
of 50 years form the critical point of departure upon which to build
the work of UNCTAD for the coming period - to enable the organization
to support developing countries in meeting the challenges of today."
Yet the high-quality contributions that UNCTAD has made have gone
beyond the developing world. Arguably, all countries can benefit from
expanded support to the organization that was able to spot the last
global financial crisis - which took its toll on the poor and vulnerable
everywhere - before it happened, and that pushed issues such as inequality
and sovereign debt restructuring onto the international development
"Indeed, who would not benefit from developing countries being
on a better footing to face their development challenges and make
their contribution to the global pledge of achieving the Sustainable
Development Goals by 2030? Policy analysis, consensus-building and
technical cooperation activities of UNCTAD are crucial to fulfilling
Paradoxically, however, the advanced industrial countries seek the
exact opposite agenda for the future of UNCTAD. As is clear from the
positions they have taken in the negotiations towards UNCTAD XIV,
these countries continue with their project to curtail the ability
of UNCTAD to provide independent and critical policy perspectives.
"If they succeed, UNCTAD will be undermined in its role of providing
the much-needed corrective and balance to the chorus of positions
that usually emanate from dominant players such as the International
Monetary Fund, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,
World Bank, World Trade Organization, and the like," the CSOs
"Instead, UNCTAD might end up as a pale reflection of these dominant
frameworks and policies, with its task reduced essentially to supporting
poorer countries in Africa and other parts of the world to implement
and live within this dominant paradigm as best as they can. The foundational
mission and role of UNCTAD could be silenced at the very time when
it is most needed in global affairs."
The CSOs went on to make a number of general recommendations.
"It is absolutely critical to continue and strengthen the integrated
approach of UNCTAD to the evolution and management of globalization
and to the interdependence of trade, finance, investment and technology
as they affect the growth and development prospects of developing
countries. The same applies to the linkages between international
trade and financial and macroeconomic issues, with particular emphasis
on issues related to crisis management," they said.
Quite pertinent to this focus will be to strengthen its research on
the financialization of commodity markets, and the consequences of
financialization for commodity prices, commodity export revenues,
taxes on commodity extraction and processing, and the use of such
revenues and taxes for economic diversification for developing country
members of UNCTAD.
"The United Nations would be failing its responsibility to the
many countries that need this service if it does not take a more robust
role in this regard."
Common but differentiated responsibilities and special and differential
treatment are long-standing multilaterally-negotiated principles that
recognize that developed and developing countries cannot be treated
in the same manner because of their differing development and economic
circumstances. Thus they have different levels of responsibility with
respect to environmental degradation, climate change and sustainable
Failing to take this into account would undermine the aspiration to
promote universal advances in development and trade.
"The UNCTAD XIV outcome document must give full support to the
UNCTAD mandate on curbing tax evasion and avoidance, including in
commodities markets and through investment policies. More broadly,
the issue of changing international tax rules and closing loopholes
that facilitate and enable international tax evasion and avoidance
cannot just be dealt with by the Organization for Economic Cooperation
and Development, which excludes the vast majority of developing countries."
According to the Political Declaration, it must be at the centre of
a multilateral intergovernmental process under the auspices of the
"As part of its contribution to curbing tax-dodging internationally,
UNCTAD must play a vital role in the development of a normative definition
of illicit financial flows, in developing guidelines and building
global consensus towards public country-by-country reporting and in
providing policy support and capacity-building to enhance the involvement
and cooperation of developing countries in addressing base erosion
and profit shifting to safeguard their taxing rights."
The mandate of UNCTAD to work on debt workout mechanisms and responsible
lending and borrowing has been uniquely useful and its members should
strengthen it, including by supporting further work on these issues
at the level of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
"UNCTAD should follow up on and further enrich its conceptual
work and support the implementation of responsible lending and borrowing
practices in member States and monitor progress. UNCTAD should develop
an alternative and development-oriented methodology on debt sustainability
analysis and support national vulture funds legislation in line with
the Addis Ababa Action Agenda."
The UNCTAD Road Map and Guide to Sovereign Debt Workouts should be
made known to member States, in particular those in debt distress,
and UNCTAD technical assistance should enable member States to conduct
debt workout in line with the application of the principles and steps
explained in the Road Map.
On the question of trade negotiations, the CSO Declaration pointed
out that while a multilateral system of trade rules is preferable
to a fragmented system, the rules must be fair and balanced, taking
into account the various levels of development across the United Nations
membership, rather than focussed on trade liberalization or simply
increasing trade flows. As an institution with a long history of helping
developing countries to use trade for their development, UNCTAD must
play an active role in assisting developing countries to advocate
for a fair multilateral trading system, and special and differential
treatment for all developing countries, addressing the imbalances
in the current trade regime, particularly in agriculture and cotton.
"It is not new approaches that are needed but the fulfilment
of the development mandate of the Doha Development Agenda. Yet we
are concerned that UNCTAD may be transformed into solely an implementation
mechanism for trade agreements concluded elsewhere. The further UNCTAD
moves towards seeing developing countries mainly as engines to increase
trade - thus deviating from its mission to support the use of trade
for development - the more it risks redundancy and irrelevance."
Trade and investment agreements do not support development without
the right policy environment, which necessitates policy space, an
effective and developmental state able to sustain its own resource
base responsible for safeguarding people's human rights, gender equality
and a more coherent, inclusive and representative global architecture
for sustainable development.
Likewise, UNCTAD must receive a strengthened mandate to ensure that
the trading system enhances the integration of developing countries,
especially the least developed countries, first on a regional level;
the structural transformation of African economies and gender equality
and women's rights in relation to the structural and global issues
in trade and finance; the promotion of sustainable development, centred
on the promotion of a higher self-sufficiency in basic food staples;
and the assurance of decent work, and peasant, indigenous and workers'
"These goals necessitate that UNCTAD undertake a review of proposed
and existing trade agreements with a view to promoting sustainable
industrialization and equitable transitions to a low-carbon economy,
reversing the reductions of labour's share of income, supporting the
implementation of agreements regarding the least developed countries
and strengthening the negotiating capacity of developing countries
in trade negotiations."
According to the CSO declaration, given the long history of UNCTAD
in encouraging developing countries to sign international investment
agreements, and the negative impacts that developing countries have
experienced, particularly due to investor–State dispute settlement
mechanisms, the mandate of UNCTAD should be intensely invested in
helping developing countries craft investment policies that will contribute
to development, rather than just "balance the interests"
of investors and development; as well as to unwind and reform these
agreements with a view to ensuring a positive impact on national or
regional development strategies. "UNCTAD members should strengthen
its mandate to support not the attraction of investment as a goal
in itself but rather its contribution to development. The establishment
of an intergovernmental group of experts on trade and investment rules
and policy reform would be helpful in this regard."
UNCTAD should be involved in monitoring the role of the private sector,
particularly foreign investors and their impacts (both positive and
negative) on mobilization of domestic resources, fiscal and debt sustainability,
development, human rights, the Sustainable Development Goals and climate
"In particular, we strongly caution about support and promotion
of public-private partnerships or addressing them as ends in themselves
- despite the unfortunate adoption of an indicator under Goal 17 that
merely refers to the number of them," said the CSOs.
"There is a lack of proof that public-private partnerships are
actually delivering positive economic, social and environmental outcomes.
Traditional public procurement that meets administrative efficiency
and public accountability criteria and supports local private sectors
should remain the preferred route for involving the private sector
in infrastructure financing."
Technology transfer is essential to the enabling of sustainable development
in developing countries, and UNCTAD should continue to take a lead
role in supporting these efforts by developing countries rather than
in enforcing intellectual property rules that benefit protectionist
patent- and copyright-holders in developed countries.
The important role of UNCTAD in financing for development should be
affirmed and expanded, including through the creation of an intergovernmental
group of experts on financing development, as well as monitoring the
implementation of commitments on official development assistance.
"Official development assistance is a long-standing but essentially
unfulfilled commitment by the developed countries; it is central to
North–South cooperation, and it must be differentiated from, and not
substituted by, South-South cooperation and other sources of international
UNCTAD should ensure that in all of the above areas, the analyses,
policy formulations and implementation processes include the sharp
reflection and articulation of gender dimensions and impacts on women
and future generations and ways to address these, and the empowerment
and effective participation of women, said the CSOs.
On structural transformation in Africa, the CSO Declaration said that
at UNCTAD XIV - taking place on African soil - African and other developing
countries must ensure, and developed countries must support, the adoption
of a work mandate that: (a) Provides UNCTAD with the necessary space
and means to articulate the policy requirements of Africa's structural
economic transformation and work in support of their realization;
(b) Reflects the elements of the changing global trade and development
agenda as it affects the positions and fortunes of African countries
in meeting the challenges of this landscape; ( c) Addresses the specific
constraints that African countries face in meeting their development
UNCTAD must support African countries to:
(a) Address the negative effects of the imbalances of the international
trade regime, including World Trade Organization agreements, economic
partnership agreements and bilateral and international investment
agreements, and protecting the space for policy initiatives and South-South
economic cooperation against further encroachment;
(b) Push and adopt financial, fiscal and other relevant policies that
stop the transfer of capital, illicit financial flows and other leakages
of economic resources from Africa and enable African countries to
retain the investible resources generated in their economies for domestic
investment and economic development;
(c) Decisively address continuing debt burdens and the looming
debt crisis and adopt policies that will prevent the re-accumulation
of unsustainable and illegitimate debts;
(d) Adopt policies to access technology (through adoption, diffusion
and technology transfer) to support the development of productive
capacities and domestic enterprise and to meet the needs of sustainable
(e) Adopt gender-sensitive and responsive trade and development policies
that promote equitable and rights-based development. The ongoing work
of UNCTAD in this regard must continue and be enhanced.
"Above all, it is important that African countries reimagine
UNCTAD beyond the expectations of technical assistance and capacity-building,
and reclaim the role of UNCTAD to shape global policy frameworks that
uphold developmental imperatives in line with their vision as expressed
in Agenda 2063 of the African Union."
The CSOs said that to further allow implementation of the calls made
in this declaration, "there is a need to scale up the international
financial and human resource support of member Governments towards
UNCTAD and its overall mandate. As the organization becomes more dependent
on project-based funding from developed countries, priorities shift
in the direction of donor States rather than the agreed-upon mandate,
a tendency that robust, renewed general support funding from member
States could curb." +