Skip to content

Harper government trying to undermine sustainable development at UNCTAD conference in Doha, say Canadian civil society organizations

Ottawa – The Canadian government is right now trying to undermine the role of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in assessing and responding to the impacts of the financial crisis and the effect of current global economic governance rules on development, poverty reduction, food security and climate change.

In the negotiations on the draft text of the official governmental declaration from the 13th quadrennial UNCTAD conference happening in Doha, Qatar this week, developed countries, including Canada, are pushing to remove the UN body’s well-recognized research and advocacy role on issues of global economic governance and finance.

In response, the Council of Canadians, Polaris Institute, National Union of Public and General Employees, Public Service Alliance of Canada and Common Frontiers have endorsed an international statement signed by 192 civil society organizations expressing the importance of UNCTAD in exploring alternatives to “Washington Consensus” views on trade and investment, debt, agriculture, employment and climate change.

“In light of the rhetoric surrounding the commitment to a more open, democratic, and participatory system of global governance that have become commonplace in recent years, we find the return to the semi-colonial approach of the developed countries in the UNCTAD negotiations outrageous,” says the international statement co-ordinated by the Our World is Not For Sale network. 

UNCTAD has been widely lauded for its work on many issues, such as debt management, developing principles of responsible lending and borrowing, trade preferences for poor countries, aid for trade, and most recently on the financialization of the economy.  It was far more prescient and effective in than many larger and better-resourced organizations, including the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization. In February this year, UNCTAD released a harsh critique of finance-driven globalization, which it said “has eroded the checks and balances that had previously helped channel market forces into the kind of creative and productive activities needed for long-term growth, and has instead encouraged short-term, and at times destructive, behaviour by banks, businesses, and households.”

This analysis was well-received by leaders and economic experts in developing and developed countries alike, as well as in civil society that has witnessed the negative impacts of the financialization of the economy in recent years. Yet the most hotly contested areas of the text are still those paragraphs which acknowledge the existence of the financial and economic crisis, and mandate UNCTAD to continue its work to mitigate its impacts and propose solutions to ensure that similar crises do not reoccur. 

For example, Canada, through the JUSCANZ group, is working to remove parts of the UNCTAD declaration that talked about the need to “reconnect finance with the real economy in support of inclusive and sustainable development.”  They have also pushed to delete language which reads, "Adequate regulation and supervision of the financial markets, and debt management, can play important roles with regard to crisis prevention and resolution." Canadian civil society points out that these issues are important to developed and developing countries alike, as they are key to our common future financial stability and sustainable development. 

At UNCTAD’s last conference in Accra, Ghana, the UN body received a mandate to look at the intersections of finance, technology, investment, and climate issues. Yet Canada's JUSCANZ alliance is pushing to water down the development focus of UNCTAD's work in each of these arenas, and working to prevent the text even from even "affirming" the Accra Declaration. The grouping wants to delete a statement that says, “Achieving sustainable growth and development calls for a transition to environmentally compatible patterns of production and consumption that safeguard the biosphere and the capability of its ecosystems to support human activity.”

The Canadian signatory organizations to the international letter call on the Harper government to demand that the JUSCANZ abandon the pressure on the G77 negotiators, and instead work together with developing countries to ensure a forward-looking mandate for UNCTAD which, among other things, “recognizes both the costs as well as opportunities of trade, and directs UNCTAD to assist developing countries in utilizing trade for their development, rather than just advising them to join the WTO and other ‘free” trade agreements.’”

Read the international letter to UNCTAD here.