Civil society groups following the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) meeting this week in Doha, Qatar have issued a statement welcoming the international body’s final declaration, “which provides consensus-based support for a strong mandate for UNCTAD’s vital work on financial and related crises that have already damaged and continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of women and men in both developed and developing countries.” But the statement also laments “the weakening, by the same developed countries whose deregulated financial markets resulted in the crises, of the Declaration’s policy analysis on the negative impacts of the global economic and related crises.”
Earlier this week, the Council of Canadians joined nearly 200 groups from around the world in commending the role of UNCTAD “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.” The statement noted with regret an attempt by the EU and JUSCANZ (a group of countries made up of Japan, the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, South Korea, Australia, Norway, Lichtenstein and New Zealand) to weaken UNCTAD’s mandate by having it reinforce the priorities of neoliberal entities like the WTO, World Bank and OECD for more corporate trade agreements and financial deregulation.
On April 24, IPS reported that disagreements between Global North and South countries “arise mainly from differing views of UNCTAD’s mandate and different visions of development and how it relates to social, environmental, economic and financial variables.” For example, “industrialised countries have rejected out of hand giving UNCTAD a remit to investigate the current global financial crisis and its effects on the real economy, diplomatic sources in the capital of Qatar who requested anonymity told IPS.”
At that time, IPS reported that both the EU and JZ “are demanding the elimination of two paragraphs from the draft text, one on the global crisis and one on the link between the financial sector and the real economy… They are also opposed to a reference to the need to regulate financial markets and to adopt mechanisms to prevent and overcome crises.”
The JZ group, to which Canada is a member and whose recommendations had Canada’s ideological stamp all over, “wants to delete reference in the outcome document to the role of industrialisation policies in development processes,” said IPS. “It also wants to alter text saying foreign direct investment should contribute to development according to the priorities and laws of recipient countries, insisting that it simply state that developing nations need to attract investment.”
“Developed countries even pushed hard to try to prevent the final document from reaffirming the Accra Accord of the previous UNCTAD XII conference,” says today’s civil society statement at the conclusion of the 13th quadrennial conference. “While this should not have even been a point of contention, given that it represents previously accepted commitments, we are pleased to note that the achievements of Accra were affirmed in the end. The Accra Accord mandates UNCTAD to work on key issues of interdependence, policy coherence, and macroeconomic policies. We look forward to seeing all governments, and specifically the Trade and Development Board, implement this commitment to ensure that this work is maintained as a key aspect of the work plan for UNCTAD agreed at Doha.”
The statement continues:
We welcome that the most extreme positions of the developed countries were neutralized in the final outcome document. The Declaration acknowledges the financial crisis and the need for adequate regulation to avoid future crises. The most controversial paragraph, 17 (d), now calls for UNCTAD to “continue, as a contribution to the work of the UN, research and analysis on the prospects of, and impact on, developing countries in matters of trade and development, in light of the global economic and financial crisis.” As civil society, we celebrate that this Declaration language gives a clear mandate to UNCTAD to continue its excellent and highly lauded work on the global economic crisis.
While the strengthened UNCTAD mandate is a victory for developed countries and civil society mobilization to resist some of the worst requests of developed countries to weaken the role of the UN body, the final declaration is still ripe with neoliberal flourishes.
“For trade to serve as an engine of inclusive growth and development, the multilateral trading system must remain open, transparent, inclusive, non-discriminatory and rules-based,” the Mandate states, though with an emphasis on integrating least developed countries and “transition economies” into the multilateral trading system. It also promotes the conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda negotiations as “crucial to the creation of new trade flows that would generate economic growth and development.”
Furthermore the UNCTAD mandate stresses that, “in a time of fragile economic recovery, trade protectionism remained a risk, and efforts to fight all forms of protectionism should continue,” according to the UNCTAD press release. “States were strongly urged to refrain from promulgating and applying any unilateral economic, financial or trade measures hindering market access, investment and freedom of transit,” the release continued. “Meaningful trade liberalization would also require addressing non-tariff measures and aim to reduce and eliminate other arbitrary or unjustified trade barriers.”
What can be said of UNCTAD and not the OECD or other churches of the neoliberal order is that it’s a more democratic space for discussing global economic governance, development, and trade (which is why the EU and JUSCANZ will continue to try to marginalize it and why we need to keep an eye on its work).