UNCTAD XI

Martin Khor of the Third World Network tells us that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s 11th session ended

in a rather good spirit with some useful results for developing countries.

The conference adopted a declaration called the Sao Paulo Consensus, which contains analyses of globalisation, trade and development issues, proposes policy responses and spells out the role of UNCTAD. Also adopted was a declaration, the Spirit of Sao Paulo.

Some prominent leaders, including Brazilian President Luiz Lula da Silva, >Thai Premier Thaksin, and UN Seceratary-General Kofi Annan, who spoke at the first part of the conference called on developing countries to rely more on themselves through South-South trade… UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, at the inaugural session, had announced that Ricupero would soon complete his term and paid tribute to his impact on global policy-making and advocacy against hypocricy and people in need.

UNCTAD XI’s most important achievement was the inclusion in the declaration of a section on need for developing countries to have “policy space”, which has been increasingly eroded by trade agreements and loan conditions. It was the first time a multilateral conference involving North and South had recognized this idea and it will be useful to developing countries’ negotiators when they argue their case in the World Trade Organisation, at the International Monetary Fund and in regional and bilateral trade agreements.

As a compromise, the Sao Paulo Consensus (para 8) now states: “The increasing interdependence of national economies in a globalizing world and the emergence of rule-based regimes for international economic relations have meant that the space for national economic policy, i.e. the scope for domestic policies, especially in the areas of trade, investment and industrial development, is now often framed by international disciplines, commitments and global market considerations.

“It is for each Government to evaluate the trade-off between the benefits of accepting international rules and commitments and the constraints posed by the loss of policy space. It is particularly important for developing countries, bearing in mind their development goals and objectives, that all countries take into account the need for appropriate balance between national policy space and international disciplines and commitments.” Developing country diplomats were also able to ward off attempts by the major developed countries to constrain UNCTAD’s future activities through the on-going UN reform process, by placing some of UNCTAD’s future work into the framework of other organizations and processes. The final language in the Sao Paulo Consensus retains UNCTAD’s present independence.

So that’s alright then. UNCTAD has retained its right to insist that its activities be within a framework of other organisations and processes. Rather like it has been over the past twenty years. That framework is one in which UNCTAD’s role is to make third world heads of state feel like not all international organisations will impolitely discard their opinions. At the World Bank and IMF, the process is a little more brusque. But there’s very little chance that anything that happens within UNCTAD will make a jot of difference outside its peeling lino’d halls. Especially when the policy space is occupied by ideas – third world elites should trade between themselves, and not allow whitey to muzzle in – that are so desperately crap. Witness:

Another “hot issue”, governance, was resolved by reference in the final text (para 21) to both national and international aspects. But the issue of corporate responsibility and accountability, pushed by developing countries, was much watered down to only a recognition that existing voluntary international instruments could be improved, and that UNCTAD should carry out analytical work to enhance corporate contributions to development in host developing countries, and draw lessons as far as the trade and development dimension is concerned. A last-minute attempt by developing countries to include that national and international “innovative financial mechanisms” to supportive of developing countries should be supported in the end yielded a very much diluted text that “voluntary financial mechanisms” should be “explored.” (para 20)….