TWN Info Service on WTO Issues (March 04/1)

11 March 2004

Third World Network


Dear friends and colleagues


The preparations for UNCTAD XI are proceeding, with the countries negotiating the main text that will be the outcome of the UNCTAD XI conference in June in Brazil.

On 23 February, UNCTAD organised an NGO hearing for NGOs to present their views to the government delegations.

TWN representative Goh Chien Yen made a presesntation at the hearing.  The TWN statement expressed concern that some developed countries were trying to deny and constrain the mandate of UNCTAD to conduct independent policy analysis on development and to assist developing countries in their negotiations.   The statement gave an example of how this was being attempted through the negotiations on the text.  TWN appealed to the governments not to attempt to rob UNCTAD of its independence and integrity as a development organisation assisting the developing countries.

Below is the full TWN statement at the UNCTAD hearing.

With best wishes,

Martin Khor, TWN


Statement by Goh Chien Yen, Third World Network, at the NGO hearing on UNCTAD XI, UN Building, Geneva, 23 Feb 2004 

The following is the full statement made on behalf of TWN.  A shorterned version was orally presented.  The NGO hearing is part of the official preparatory process towards the UNCTAD XI conference to be held in Brazil in June 2004.

Thank you Mr Chairman for this opportunity to speak on Sub-theme One , i.e.  “Development strategies in a globalising world.”

In relation to this topic, I would like to focus on a critical issue - the context in which this subtheme and for that matter all the other subthemes are to be considered by this preparatory process towards UNCTAD XI.

The most important aspect of the discussions and the documents that will be the UNCTADS XI outcomes is the context and the framework of our understanding of development and of the fundamental roles and functions of UNCTAD.

If the context and framework are wrong, then the  discussions will be be like pouring water into a broken vessel. No amount of effort to fill it will be sufficient.

Before and since its inception, UNCTAD has been envisaged and designed to provide assistance to developing countries to develop their capacities for choosing appropriate development policies and strategies, including in trade, finance, technology transfer and development overall, and for being able to cooperate with one another, in negotiations, in policy formulation and for South-South cooperation.  The UNCTAD Secretariat can play a valuable function in this regard if it retains its independence and maintains a high quality of research. 

If the functions and independence of UNCTAD are limited and constrained, then it would not be able to carry out its valuable work of providing policy advice, and of assistance to developing countries.  In other words, using the analogy again of the vessel and the pouring of water, if the vessel is broken, then the efforts to come up with the most thoughtful and sensitive development strategy would not work.

In this regard, we are very concerned about the attitude taken by some developed countries during this preparatory process.

There appears to be a concerted effort on the part of some of the developed countries to limit and even undermine the independence and integrity of UNCTAD and its work.

This is demonstrated by the proposals made by these countries to amend or to add to various texts on the different subthemes that had earlier been prepared by the Chairman of the Preparatory Committee of UNCTAD XI

In the text for subtheme one on “Development Strategies in a Globalising World Economy” this problem can be illustrated by the proposals made by major developed countries to the text of paragraph 46., under the heading “UNCTAD’s Contribution.”

The original chairman’s text states that:

UNCTAD’s independent role in delivering policy analysis and policy advice at the global and national levels should be strengthened. Its work on globalisation and development strategies should focus on interdependence and coherence.

To this reasonable and modest proposal, the developed countries have attempted to make amendments or additions that would totally change the nature of this text.

The EU wants the following words and phrases deleted - “independent” and “should be strengthened.”

The US wants to curtail the scope of UNCTAD’s work by proposing the deletion of “policy advice.”

And Canada wants to add that UNCTAD’s work “should be undertaken in collaboration with the Bretton Woods and other relevant organizations.” The danger of this is that UNCTAD’s independence could be curtailed and it could become subservient to the international financial institutions, which the developed countries have been able to dominate, and also to the WTO.

Such proposals, if accepted, would end up straightjacketing and compromising the integrity of UNCTAD as an institution and its activities.

Sad to say, such attempts to undermine and constrain UNCTAD are not new, they have been made before at previous Conferences as well.

We have also witnessed how UNCTAD has been losing ground and influence on some key development issues and in areas of concern to developing countries. 

For example, UNCTAD used to play a vital role in dealing with stability in the prices and markets for commodities, in order to offset the declining terms of trade of commodities and the  notoriously debilitating impact on the poor countries.  But this issue has dropped away from the central agenda of UNCTAD, and yet the commodity problem has worsened and continues to be the major trade problem for many poor countries.  UNCTAD XI must encourage, indeed insist, that UNCTAD once again give high priority to address the commodities problem 

UNCTAD has also distinguished itself with its independent analysis of the impact on development and on developing countries of the global economy, and in particular the economic policies of the developed countries and the international financial and trading systems.  UNCTAD has also played an important role in analysis and provision of assistance to developing countries in the negotiations taking place in the GATT and WTO. 

These valuable functions of the Secretariat should be appreciated, reaffirmed and strengthened by the UNCTAD XI process.   The developed countries should allow UNCTAD to strengthen its work on behalf of the developing countries, instead of attempting to block or prevent this.

The downward slide of UNCTAD into irrelevance has to be arrested and reversed.

UNCTAD was established to design appropriate development policies and to look at the international systems, structures and processes and their impact on development and the developing countries. UNCTAD’s contribution to understand and analyse these processes from a development perspective is critical.

It is therefore vital to keep this debate on appropriate development strategies in a globalising world open, which has hitherto been one-sided and dominated by the World Bank, IMF and the WTO.

If UNCTAD is robbed of its independence and integrity as an institution (as would happen if some proposals put forward by some of the developed countries are accepted), then our inputs today to make UNCTAD work for development would be in vain.

We therefore urge the developed countries not to attempt to weaken UNCTAD, but instead join with the developing countries to have a preparatory process and a UNCTAD XI conference that would strengthen UNCTAD, which in turn will strengthen development and the effective participation of developing countries in the global economy and in their own development.