Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct18/01)
8 October 2018
Third World Network
United Nations: Crisis in multilateralism unfolding since UNCTAD-14
Published in SUNS #8767 dated 5 October 2018
Geneva, 4 Oct (Kanaga Raja) -- A crisis in "multilateralism for
trade" has been unfolding in the two years since the fourteenth
ministerial meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and
Development (UNCTAD), the head of the organisation, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi,
"One of the casualties appears to be progress at the WTO,"
This came at a meeting of UNCTAD's Trade and Development Board (TDB)
on 1 October, where Dr Kituyi, the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, presented
the mid-term review report on the implementation of the Nairobi Maafikiano,
the mandate that UNCTAD was given at UNCTAD-14 which took place in
Nairobi, Kenya in July 2016.
Dr Kituyi told members attending the TDB meeting that for UNCTAD as
an organisation, their deliberations summarised as the mid-term review
represent a very important moment, taking stock of what has been happening
since Nairobi and helping to "cast ourselves on the way towards
The Secretary-General recalled that the Maafikiano gave UNCTAD a unified
mandate - cutting across divisional boundaries, calling us to work
more closely with each other, and with other entities.
It was a first in the UN system in terms of setting a work programme
on SDG implementation and the actions it spells out clearly define
UNCTAD's strengthened role, supporting gainful economic growth, multilateralism
for trade and development, productive capacities for structural transformation,
and implementation of the Agenda 2030.
These four Maafikiano sub-themes speak respectively to four principal
SDGs - on inequality, on growth, on industry, innovation and infrastructure,
and on renewed global leadership.
"As [it has] been known to many of you, a crisis in multilateralism
for trade has been unfolding in the two years since Nairobi,"
said Dr Kituyi.
"While we spoke in hushed whispers about the Brexit vote in the
corridors of KICC in Nairobi in July 2016 [venue of UNCTAD-14], today
we speak more openly about an escalating trade war that has consumed
many of the major trading nations and threatens to harm the prospects
for prosperity facing the most vulnerable among us."
"One of the casualties appears to be progress at the WTO,"
said Dr Kituyi.
Today we face a looming debt crisis. Global debt has ballooned to
$250 trillion, three times the equivalent of global GDP, he pointed
Private corporate debt has exploded, especially in emerging markets
and developing countries who now account for more than a quarter of
global debt stocks.
"This year alone we've seen the value of many currencies drop
dramatically, from Argentina to Turkey, from Angola to Brazil, from
South Africa to Russia," said Dr Kituyi.
As interest rates rise as well, the spectre of damaging capital outflows
is very real for the developing and emerging world, he cautioned.
He said besides the tit-for-tat tariffs, debt-fueled tepid growth,
and growing risk of capital flight, we also must acknowledge that
at the root of the "trade war" is a global showdown over
leadership, not just in trade but also in the technology frontier.
This difficult environment affects UNCTAD, said Dr Kituyi, emphasising
however that UNCTAD is prepared to weather this storm.
The difficult international environment impacts on the United Nations
as a whole directly, as some of us witnessed in New York in the past
one week, he noted.
"But while some may laugh at boastful declarations of self-interest,
this laughter is at our own peril," he said.
The global mood is souring towards the liberal international economic
order, and confidence in global solutions is waning, leading to a
difficult road ahead for work to support development.
"While the Maafikiano has strengthened UNCTAD, it has been within
the limits of existing resources, which as some of you are aware,
are not only constant but actually shrinking," said the Secretary-General.
He pointed out that in the past two months, all secretariat agencies
of the United Nations have surrendered 10% of their regular budget
"That has affected us and our delivery," he said.
According to Dr Kituyi, this has led to mixed progress in the implementation
of some of the work agreed in the Maafikiano, most notably the pledge
for strengthening assistance to the Palestinian people, and strengthened
workstreams on the digital economy, "where we are not able to
meet the massive demand for our advisory services."
Since Nairobi, the United Nations embarked on an ambitious reform
agenda to better deliver as one in support of the Agenda 2030.
Dr Kituyi said that UNCTAD has been doing its part in this process,
translating into practice its strengths and advantages, as outlined
in his document "From Actions to Results" shared with members
As called for in the Maafikiano, and as spelled out in the reforms,
UNCTAD has deepened its engagement with United Nations development
system entities, and has increased its footprint on the ground in
line with the reform, in close partnership with other agencies.
For example, the Secretary-General highlighted the recently launched
Angola Train for Trade II programme which is UNCTAD's largest country
programme ever, and represents a very practical way of delivering
on the ground.
Similarly, UNCTAD continues to engage with other UN regional entities.
"Also in line with the reforms, we've embraced a new way of working,
growing our cross-divisional cooperation."
"We have similarly strengthened our internal collaboration in
statistics, on gender, financing for development and on South-South
Cooperation," said Dr Kituyi.
"And we have further implemented results-based management and
the mainstreaming of gender equality in line with both the Maafikiano
and UN-wide reform efforts."
"In spite of the gloomy picture that we may have cast, it is
important to also note that there are some glimmers of hope,"
For example, he pointed to the signing of the African Continental
Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) in March this year.
The work of UNCTAD has played a major role in the success so far of
the negotiations. But there is much more work ahead and we expect
that our office in Addis Ababa will rise to the challenge and assist
the African Union Commission in the implementation of the mandate
before them, he said.
Dr Kituyi also said the digital economy continues to grow and expand
offering hope for new markets to revitalize globalization, notwithstanding
the challenge that this poses in terms of concentration of market
power and disruption to labour and product markets.
"These challenges make our own work on competition policy and
consumer protection as well as on e-Trade readiness and digital entrepreneurship
all the more urgent."
The Secretary-General also pointed out that due to the unprecedented
growth in popularity of UNCTAD's annual e-Commerce Week, this coming
December, Africa will play host to the first Regional e-Commerce Week
to work towards practical ways in which Africa's rejection of insularity,
and its embrace of new technologies can help move beyond the challenges
we face today.
He also noted that in just a few short weeks UNCTAD will welcome 5,000
investment stakeholders including 14 heads of state and government
to the Palais des Nations for the 2018 World Investment Forum.
"It is my hope this Mid-Term Review will re-assure that we are
on the right track, despite the difficulties that have arisen since
Nairobi. It is also my intention that we can now begin preparations
for UNCTAD-15, taking stock of where we are and identifying new momentum
that can realise our contribution to Agenda 2030," Dr Kituyi
Meanwhile, an UNCTAD Secretariat Note (TD/B/65(2)/CRP. 1) on mid-term
review of the Nairobi Maafikiano summarised that midway through the
delivery of the Nairobi Maafikiano and the Nairobi Azimio, much has
been accomplished, but much remains to be done.
According to the document, persistent challenges to the gainful integration
of developing countries into the global economy, such as the uneven
global divisions between poverty and plenty, remain unresolved more
than 50 years after the establishment of UNCTAD.
At the same time, new challenges continue to emerge, such as the widening
digital divide and the transport connectivity divide, which threaten
to leave developing countries even further behind.
Opportunities to address both persistent and emerging challenges are
multiple; only the ambition of the international community holds back
the resolution of many of these issues.
According to the document, UNCTAD will continue to deliver on the
work programme agreed at UNCTAD XIV with the aspiration that further
progress can be reached by 2020, in particular with regard to early-harvest
targets under the Goals, such as the prohibition of certain forms
of fisheries subsidies. +