TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues  (May08/08)
13 May 2008
Third World Network

UNCTAD XII: Delegates in last spurt to conclude UNCTAD XII text
Published in SUNS #6463 dated 25 April 2008

By Martin Khor, Accra, 24 April 2008

With one day to go before the close of UNCTAD XII, diplomats are racing against the clock to close the gaps on several contentious issues in the text to be adopted, and that have taken up much of the time of negotiations in the past several months.

The Chair of the Committee of the Whole, Bulgarian Ambassador Petko Draganov, on Thursday morning issued a consolidated text containing elements of previous drafts plus his own language on many of the issues that had been placed in square brackets (denoting lack of agreement).

Following a G77 and China internal meeting to look at the Chair's draft, a negotiating session was being held Thursday afternoon to go through the Chair's proposals.

A comparison of the new text with previous drafts indicates that the Chair's way out of some of the contested paragraphs is to have them deleted.

Among the deleted paragraphs are those dealing with the need for policy space (paras 25 and 42); the listing of ten issues which UNCTAD should address in its globalization and development work (Para 38); international action to reduce transaction costs of migrants' remittances and expand migrants' access to financial services (para 89); coherence between macroeconomic policies and employment creation (para 151); and UNCTAD serving as a forum on good governance (para 41).

On the critical issue of the future of UNCTAD's Commissions, the new paper opts for reducing the present three Commissions to two, i. e. a Trade and Development Committee and a Investment, Enterprise and Development Committee. The G77/China proposal for a new Commission on Globalization and Development Strategies has not been accepted. Instead, the Trade and Development Board will add to the agenda of its regular annual session an item "Development strategies in a globalized world."

The Chair's proposal contrasts with the US proposal to abolish the Commissions, and the G77/China proposal to maintain the three Commissions and add one more (on globalization). It corresponds with the EU proposal to reduce the number to two.

The new text also states (para 107) that UNCTAD should consider climate change in its work of assisting developing countries with trade and investment related issues in development strategies. The earlier draft states that UNCTAD should address the trade, investment and development implications of climate change in support of sustainable development.

On intellectual property, the mandate of UNCTAD is recognized in the new paper, though the reference is in less detail that the earlier draft. The Chair's text says (para 113) that, taking into account the WIPO Development Agenda, UNCTAD within its mandate should continue to undertake research and analysis on trade and development aspects of intellectual property, including on protection of traditional knowledge, genetic resources and folklore and fair and equitable sharing.

The new text also has a new paragraph on implementation of the activities in the operational paragraphs on UNCTAD. It says that they should be presented as the work programme for the next four years. The Secretary General should present this programme to the working party on medium-term plan and programme budget and later to the Trade and Development Board.

The extent to which the Chair's various proposals are acceptable to the G77 and China on one hand, and developed countries led by the United States and European Union on the other hand, remains to be seen in the remaining negotiations before the conference ends.

On Wednesday evening, the UNCTAD spokesperson Taffere Tesfachew briefed NGOs on the state of play of the negotiations on the text. He said the issues not yet agreed on included: (1) topics that were traditionally problematic in UNCTAD conferences (good governance, policy space, intellectual property); (2) emerging issues and how UNCTAD should deal with them (climate change, migration, energy security); and (3) institutional issues (particularly, the role of the Commissions).

Trade officials and diplomats said that one of the most contentious issues in the Geneva negotiations was how UNCTAD's publications are to be treated. Up to now, the Secretariat has been free to issue independent reports and publications. This independence was sought to be severely curbed by the US, supported by the EU, using the argument of efficiency.

The US-led proposals included having the UNCTAD Secretariat to submit documents to member states for comment before publication; having UNCTAD to submit its publications to a peer review process involving other international organizations, and if it takes a different view from them, to explain to member states why it does so; and before a publication is released in a country, it has to get the country to agree to what its distribution plan is.

These proposals were strongly opposed by the G77 and China, which were of the view that these measures would destroy the independence and integrity of the Secretariat.

As a compromise, the agreed text (para 188, 189) states that the publications "should be subject to an effective clearance process within the secretariat to ensure coherence by the organization in all areas of major policy importance." It should also enhance its peer reviews.

This is seen on one hand as being less onerous than having the Secretariat's reports and publications being micro-managed or vetoed by member states, and on the other hand, as additional pressure to the secretariat to practice "self censorship" so as not to displease the developed countries, and as giving these countries another entry point to question the publications and the staff's research work. For example, if the publications are to have "coherence", on which basis (principles, content, process) should this coherence be based? +