by Someshwar Singh

Geneva , 13 Jan 2000-- The upcoming tenth United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Bangkok (12-19 Feb) should be used as a "world parliament on globalisation" to move ahead from the deadlock in multilateral trade talks precipitated in Seattle, suggests Rubens Ricupero, UNCTAD Secretary General.

In an address to the German Society for Foreign Policy in Berlin this week, Ricupero said: "UNCTAD-X's agenda closely mirrors the discussion in Seattle: the future of world trade, the role of investment and transnational corporations, the need for adequate competition rules, all this from a development perspective." The conference in Bangkok, said Ricupero, could and should be used by national governments and international organisations to show that they are genuinely sensitive to the concerns of people who have been taking to the street to demonstrate and that they are ready to engage them in a process of open, transparent and mutually respectful dialogue.

UNCTAD-X at Bangkok (12-19 February) is particularly suited to become a sort of 'world parliament for globalization', said the UNCTAD chief.

Describing the potential of what the Bangkok 'parliament' could do, Ricupero said, "First and foremost it is a forum to discuss important issues. Its ultimate objective is not to impose artificial consensus to eliminate difference of approaches and priorities that characterize the existence of parties, fractions and the perspective of regions. The goal of a parliament is to achieve that realistic degree of possible compromise, that minimum common denominator that will allow making decisions that reflect a majority, but respect the rights of a minority."

Ricupero identified three main objectives that UNCTAD X could achieve related to globalisation and development. These are:

* first, to take stock of what has happened so far, the successes and failures;

* second, to identify what was missing in approaches and policies; and

* third, to map the road ahead - the challenges in terms of the needed regulations for the problems brought by the globalized economy and in what institutions should this work be pursued.

On this last, the foremost question is how to deal with the need for developing countries to seek their integration into the world economy in such a way that guarantees sustainable integration -- to be achieved in an appropriate sequence of steps -- and finally bringing about results of increasing quality and not quantity of integration into the global economy.

In this task UNCTAD was best suited to help developing countries through its action-oriented approach to research and policy analysis, technical assistance and consensus-building, he added.

Ricupero cited in this regard UNCTAD's work in developing a positive agenda and preparations of developing countries for multilateral trade negotiations; in the area of international investment agreements and to enable developing countries to effectively discuss and negotiate such agreements at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels; and the lead role in the preparations for the third UN Conference on least developed countries to be hosted by the European Union in Brussels in 2001.

Earlier, Ricupero said the Seattle events were a worrying way of ending a century and starting a new one. "Far from being an isolated incident, they were the last episode in a series of events of a negative nature. They came after the painful process that characterized the preparatory negotiations among WTO members in Geneva and, a little before, the equally difficult choice of a new Director-General for the organization."

Identifying some of the other problems, he said the negotiations about a Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) in OECD led nowhere and had to be abandoned. "Despite the frequency and virulence of currency and financial crisis, first in Mexico, then in Asia, the financial organizations did not succeed so far in adopting effective policies to deal with some of the causes of the crisis, particularly the dangerous destabilizing effect of short-term financial volatility."

The Uruguay Round only came to a conclusion after two serious stalemates in Montreal (December 1988) and Brussels (December 1990), he added.

These string of events, Ricupero said, show an increasing difficulty of governments and international organizations of reaching meaningful and effective decisions. "On the other hand, they are often composed or complicated by a persistent inability of engaging civil society around the world in a systematic and ordered debate about decisions that will deeply affect common peoples' lives everywhere."

The UNCTAD chief believes that in spite of the growing importance of non-State actors - NGOs, religious organizations, the private sector, trade unions - it seems that the current structure of international relations is unable to offer these actors an opportunity to participate in the discussion of problems, the decision-making process or the implementation of policies.

"The net result is that frustration, fears and concerns finally find expression in a confrontational and sometimes violent attitude, often leading to disruption and a feeling of confusion. There is a clear need to reach out to the concerned individuals and organizations, to offer them an opportunity to be heard by governments not only when they march and protest in the streets, to start a process of ordered and respectful dialogue with those who want to debate the central issues related to trade, investment, financial crisis, job insecurity, growing inequality inside nations and among them."

UNCTAD, Ricupero pointed out, could provide a more 'relaxed' and participative forum for debate as UNCTAD is not dealing with rule-making, the negotiations of trade agreements or dispute-settlement like WTO. "It is understandable that when governments are negotiating complex trade rules or are trying to find solutions to problems arising from the clash of concrete economic interests, it is difficult to conduct the kind of participatory debate that we have in mind." (SUNS4584)