Global Trends by Martin Khor
Monday 30 April 2012
South wins battle for new UNCTAD mandate
a bruising negotiating session at a week-long Ministerial conference,
the developing countries won a battle to give UNCTAD a renewed and
broad mandate for its future work, including on the global economic
fresh mandate has been given to the UN Conference on Trade and Development
to continue the scope of its present activities as well as to take
on some new issues in the next four years.
This was the main result of the UNCTAD’s ministerial conference (known
as UNCTAD XIII) that ended in Doha (Qatar) on 26 April. It came after
a huge battle between developing and developed countries that went
on for several months, first at Geneva (where the UN organisation
is located) and then at Doha.
At times it seemed as if the developed countries would succeed in
blocking the UN’s premier development think tank from continuing its
work in some key areas, especially on the global economic crisis,
financial issues, macroeconomic policy and debt.
But this onslaught was eventually successfully resisted by the developing
countries which stayed united under the Group of 77 and China as well
as the groupings of Africa, Asia and Latin America and Caribbean and
the least developed countries.
The adoption by consensus of the Doha Accord was hailed as a success
by all parties at the end of conference. It was a triumph of multilateral
cooperation at a time when there have been many failures, said one
developed country grouping at the close of the meeting.
This is indeed true. The World Trade Organisation’s trade round,
initiated in 2001 also in Doha, has been unable to conclude due to
an unbridgeable North-South divide.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations face severe
strains with each recent annual conference becoming a nail-biting
event as to whether there would be a bust-up or a temporary patch-up
agreement in the last hours.
The preparations for this year’s other big event, the UN Sustainable
Development Conference to be held in June in Rio de Janeiro, are also
facing serious challenges, with many areas of disagreement and only
a few more days left to negotiate.
It is becoming evident that we are now in a new era of great difficulties
in international relations, where principles and issues that for a
long time were accepted as being part of (or even the bedrock of)
North-South cooperation have now become issues of serious contention.
At the heart of this sea-change is the concern of many developed countries
that they are losing ground to several developing countries in economic
performance and global influence, and that to check this trend the
old contours of international cooperation have to be re-drawn.
the North seems to be re-thinking whether to continue (and if so then
how to continue differently) the practice of developing countries
being provided development assistance and trade preferences, or with
the recognition that developing countries be allowed to take on lesser
obligations in agreements on trade or environment in recognition of
their lower economic levels.
Thus there are attempts to remove or drastically re-define the “common
and differentiated responsibilities” principle in environmental agreements
especially in the climate area.
Similarly there is an attempt to downgrade or re-define the extent
to which developing countries get special and differential treatment
in trade agreements, with the developed countries not so interested
anymore in the WTO where this principle is alive, and instead wanting
to negotiate bilateral and regional agreements where the reciprocity
principle prevails, and both sides have to make similar commitments.
The UNCTAD conference, held once in four years in order to decide
on UNCTAD’s specific work until the next conference, almost became
a victim of this larger global geo-political change.
Since the last conference in Accra in 2008, the UNCTAD secretariat
has continued to do outstanding work on the global economy, providing
incisive analysis of the causes of the financial crisis and the inadequate
policy responses by developed countries, and offering proposals for
solutions that are more systemic (and more workable) than the orthodox.
In recent weeks, many pointed out that UNCTAD has through the years
been ahead of the curve, providing analyses and proposing solutions
vastly different from those the IMF and World Bank, and often proving
The developed countries, especially the grouping JUSSCANZ (that includes
the US, Japan, Canada, Australia and Switzerland) and sometimes supported
by the European Union, sought to remove or dilute the mandate of UNCTAD
to work on finance and macro-economic issues, arguing that it should
stick to only trade-related issues.
Developing countries argued that UNCTAD has through the years enjoyed
a broad mandate to address a broad range of issues covering not only
trade and development but also finance, technology and sustainable
They and a growing group of NGOs and scholars, including over fifty
former senior UNCTAD staff, argued that UNCTAD’s work on the global
financial and economic issues has not only proven valuable but even
more important now that the world is in a crisis.
“The credibility of the orthodox theories and of the IMF and World
Bank is now low because their prescriptions led to the crisis, and
the developed countries are seeking to silence UNCTAD because its
analyses and proposed reforms have gained ground,” said a senior developing
country Ambassador in the corridors of UNCTAD XIII.
On April 13, the G77 and China made a strong statement in Geneva that
it could no longer make any concessions and that at a minimum the
Doha conference should reaffirm that UNCTAD continue the work agreed
to at the Accra conference in 2008, and take on any additional work
that the Doha conference may agree on.
the developed countries were not willing to give UNCTAD any new work,
the battle in Doha was really about whether or not to reaffirm the
Accra Accord of 2008, which would allow UNCTAD to continue its present
After often heated negotiations, which lasted till 5.00 a.m. on the
last night, the G77 and China and its regional groupings finally succeeded
in convincing the developed countries to reaffirm the Accra Accord,
to not place new conditions on UNCTAD’s future work, and to continue
to work on the financial crisis.
The JUSSCANZ group had opened another front to narrow UNCTAD’s work
by proposing that UNCTAD stick to its “core” mandate and not to “duplicate”
the work of other international organisations. By this it meant that
UNCTAD should only work on trade issues, and leave finance and technology
to the IMF, World Bank and others.
The G77 and China succeeded both in having the Accra Accord reaffirmed
as well as in maintaining UNCTAD’s broad mandate.
In the Doha Accord adopted on 26 April, para 16 reaffirms the Accra
Accord which it says remains valid and relevant, while para 17 states
that UNCTAD remains the focal point for the UN for an integrated treatment
of trade and development and interrelated issues of finance, technology,
investment and sustainable development, while enhancing synergies
and complementarities with other UN and other international organisations.
In closing speeches, the G77 and China said what was achieved at UNCTAD
XIII had been very significant, and UNCTAD now has a clear road map
for its work for the next four years.
The European Union welcomed the Doha mandate which it said gave UNCTAD
a very solid mandate for the next four years.
The JUSSCANZ group said UNCTAD XIII had a positive conclusion, and
this was a success for multilateral cooperation.
NGOs, which played a significant role in UNCTAD XIII, said they were
concerned that some countries tried to circumscribe the work of UNCTAD
on the financial crisis but it interpreted the outcome to mean that
UNCTAD can address the root causes of the crisis in order to help
avoid future crises.
Thus ended the UNCTAD XIII, in which international development cooperation
was put to a severe test, and the developing countries came out successfully
in defending the mandate and work of the UN’s most important development