Strengthen, Don’t Weaken, UNCTAD’s Role in Global Governance: Towards Sustainable and Inclusive Development, Not More Crises

Since the onset of the global financial and economic crises, UNCTAD has played an important role in identifying the key causes of the crises, assisting developing countries in seeking solutions to the impacts of the crises, and advocating for the reform of global economic and finance policies and governance in order to prevent similar crises from recurring. These are all key roles that no other multilateral economic institution has fulfilled from a development perspective. In fact, UNCTAD is well known for having predicted the crisis in advance, a fact that is to be commended, particularly given its paucity of resources compared to institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which failed to do so. This prescience builds on a long history of UNCTAD’s contributions to development-oriented policies such as the Generalized System of Preferences, 0.7 percent GNI aid targets, debt cancellation, international commodity agreements, special and differential treatment at the WTO, and policy space, among many others.

Despite these important contributions, throughout the negotiations leading up to UNCTAD XIII, the developed countries have tried to rescind the important mandate of UNCTAD to work on issues of global macroeconomic and finance policies, and particularly to participate in global governance on these issues, which are so essential to global prosperity. In addition, the EU and “JUSCANZ” (Japan, the United States, Switzerland, Canada, South Korea, Australia, Norway, New Zealand, and Lichtenstein) have sought to impose a mandate on UNCTAD to push developing countries to adopt investor protection and trade policies in accordance with the corporate interests of developed countries, rather than in the interests of the successful use of trade and investment for the purposes of sustainable and inclusive growth within developing countries themselves.

The outcomes of the UNCTAD XIII conference in Doha, Qatar, April 21-26, 2012, must contribute to the transformations of the global economy that are necessary for true inclusive and sustainable development for all:

1. It is essential that the 2012 UNCTAD Declaration affirms, rather than retreats from, the progress made at the UNCTAD XII in Accra. This includes an agreement on the need for sustainable as well as inclusive growth, as well as the need for UNCTAD to work on the inter-related issues of finance, technology, investment, and sustainable development, among other key issues.

2. The collective policy analysis must recognize the root causes of the global crisis, its impacts, and mandate a role for UNCTAD to continue its excellent economic and finance research and critical analysis, in order to truly assist developing countries in creating solutions to the crises – rather than pushing them to implement more of the same deregulatory trade and investment policies that led to the global crises in the first place.

3. Finally, the role of UNCTAD as an alternative voice to the “Washington Consensus” paradigm – being the only multilateral economic institution focused on development – must be strengthened vis-à-vis the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, the OECD, and the G20 in global economic governance decision-making.

In order to the accomplish these transformations, we call on developed countries to abandon the pressure on the G77 negotiators, and instead work together with developing countries to ensure a forward-looking mandate for UNCTAD which must, among other issues:

  • Specifically recognize the origins, spread, and impacts of the global crises, and mandate a role for UNCTAD which includes assisting developing countries as well as advocacy in the global governance arena in favor of sustainable and inclusive growth.
  • Affirm the key role of UNCTAD’s research and analysis on macroeconomic and financial issues, including exchange rates and global imbalances, as well as countercyclical fiscal policies that have helped stabilize economies during the global crisis.
  • Include analysis that recognizes both the costs as well as opportunities of trade, and directs UNCTAD to assist developing countries in utilizing trade for their development, rather than just advising them to join the WTO and other “free” trade agreements.
  • Mandate UNCTAD to determine the contours of a global trade framework that is truly development-oriented, and thus to identify the changes to the existing WTO and ongoing negotiations that are necessary to ensure that governments have the policy space to use trade for sustainable and inclusive development, and to regulate in the public interest.
  • Affirm the importance of adequate regulation and supervision of financial markets, particularly with regard to crisis prevention and resolution, and mandate UNCTAD to play an active role in ensuring strong national and global financial regulatory rules.
  • Acknowledge the problems of investor protection provisions in trade and investment agreements and mandate a role for UNCTAD in helping developing countries design investment policies that will benefit their sustainable and inclusive growth, as well as advocating for development-oriented best practices in investment policies globally. • Recognize the major impacts of the crisis on employment, and mandate UNCTAD to work on the national level with developing countries in favor of job creation, and on the international level in favor of the Decent Work Agenda in concert with the ILO.
  • Reassert the need to find solutions to the problem of volatility in the global commodities markets and the need for fair trade in global agricultural trade towards Food Security and Food Sovereignty, and mandate a research and advocacy role for UNCTAD on these issues, together with the FAO and particularly the Committee on Food Security.
  • Affirm developed countries’ commitments in ODA and Aid for Trade, as well as UNCTAD’s key role in identifying the need for and developing mechanisms towards a sustainable sovereign debt work-out mechanism, bringing together diverse stake holders to create Responsible Lending and Borrowing principles and continued efforts on debt cancellation.
  • Set forth clear analysis of the impact of climate change on sustainable and inclusive development, and mandate UNCTAD to contribute to the global effort to realize the objectives of sustainable and inclusive development vis-à-vis climate change.

These are but a few of the key issues that should form the foundation of the official declaration that is to guide UNCTAD’s role over the next four years. More comprehensive analysis on each of these issues is detailed in the official Civil Society Declaration to UNCTAD XIII.

In light of the rhetoric surrounding the commitment to a more open, democratic, and participatory system of global governance that have become commonplace in recent years, we find the return to the semi-colonial approach of the developed countries in the UNCTAD negotiations outrageous. We commend the former leadership and staff of UNCTAD who spoke up against this unacceptable situation last week, as well as the G77 for their statement that called the EU and JUSCANZ to account for their intransigent positions.

As representatives of developed and developing countries of myriad stages of development, we know that our own prosperity is deeply entwined to the sustainable development of all, and thus we call on all governments of the North and South to join together, to affirm a strong role for UNCTAD in working towards sustainable and inclusive development for all.