April 30, 2012

UNCTAD – A forgotten institution to some, with a key role for many (Part Two)

Yet just four years later, in Doha, another attempt has been made by the Northern members to retrench the organization—this time led by a Northern coalition styled JUSSCANZ (Japan, US, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). Switzerland and the U.S. have led the pack. The group advocates “forestalling duplication of efforts among international actors in order to achieve the most efficient employment and use of scarce resources; and enhancing UNCTAD’s work by concentrating on its comparative advantages, particularly its expertise and know-how.” This is language aimed at getting UNCTAD out of the business of undertaking analytical work, for example, on the financial crisis or on issues such as alternative macroeconomic policies to recover from the crisis—subjects on which the Bretton Woods institutions are said to have a “comparative advantage”—even though the latter now admit the advice they provided to encourage further financial liberalization right up to the outbreak of the crisis is was deeply flawed.
In long, protracted and mostly closed-door negotiations the developing country bloc at UNCTAD (the Group of 77 and China) reportedly came to the defence of UNCTAD. The final outcome document, designated “the Doha Mandate”, gives guidelines for the organization’s activities for the next four years. It reaffirms work priorities agreed in Accra in 2008 at the UNCTAD XII conference, including UNCTAD’s traditional research activities in matters of trade and related development issues of concern to poor nations. It also contains the following critical passage: “…several challenges have to be met to realize development-centred globalization. In this regard, finance should support the real economy in support of sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth and sustainable development. All countries, developed and developing alike, can pay serious political, economic and social costs from financial shocks.” In other words, UNCTAD can continue to undertake analytical work and provide policy advice in the area of global finance.
While the negotiations were going on, this writer had the pleasure and privilege of attending a number of panels and speaking as a panellist at a few. These included sessions on: Trade and Poverty Reduction—the Missing Links; Debt Crisis Prevention and Management; The World Turned Upside Down—the Rise of the South; Free Trade Agreements—Necessary but not Sufficient, Lessons from the Arab Region; New Perspectives on Industrial Policies of the South; Dynamic Developing Economies and Least Developed Countries—Integrating the South; and a panel on Development Banks. All the discussions at these sessions, including interventions from the floor, were of high quality and offered much to learn. There were reportedly other sessions that I did not attend, including a “High Level Event on Women in Development”, which were less satisfactory.
UNCTAD’s mandate has thus been reaffirmed, much to the relief of most of its developing country members. What the organization could use is additional support from its developed country members. In Canada’s case, the official position taken by Canada’s representatives in support of the JUSSCANZ coalition at UNCTAD XIII warrants public explanation and discussion. The media in Canada are silent about this organization, unlike in Europe, where the recent debate was widely reported in the press. However, academics and CSOs in Canada make extensive use of UNCTAD’s research and policy analysis, which is generally viewed to be extremely useful. Canada’s policy should recognize the value and importance of UNCTAD as a key contributor to more sustainable and equitable globalization policies.

This blog was written by Roy Culpeper, a Senior Fellow at the University of Ottawa’s School of International Development and Global Studies and Adjunct Professor at Carleton University. Prior to this, Mr. Culpeper was the President-CEO of The North-South Institute from 1995 until 2010.

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