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UNCTAD’s Roles Reaffirmed, but Only after Significant Wrangling 0

The United Nations’ leading development organisation UNCTAD recently obtained a renewed mandate for its work, but not without difficulty.

This is because the developed countries are now much more reluctant to give concessions to the developing countries, thus showing up the present shaky state of North-South relations and of development cooperation.

The 14th session of the United Nation Conference on Trade and Development (dubbed UNCTAD 14) concluded in Nairobi on 22 July with an agreed declaration on global economic issues.

It also gave UNCTAD another four-year mandate for its activities of research, intergovernmental meetings, and technical assistance.

Reaching this consensus was hailed as a success in multilateral cooperation on trade, development, and related issues. However, an agreement was reached, on what should have been non-controversial issues, only after a lot of difficult wrangling between the developed and developing countries.

Formed in 1964, UNCTAD is the UN’s premier economic development organisation. In its hey- day from the 1960s to the 1980s, it was the world’s most important negotiating forum on trade issues, specialising in global commodity agreements.

It helped lead the developing countries’ initiative for a “new international economic order”. It was also designated the UN’s focal point for the integrated treatment of trade and development and with areas of finance, technology, and investment.

For over half a century, UNCTAD has championed the cause of developing countries. But in recent decades, under the influence of developed countries, its role was downgraded. Many of its important issues were passed on to other organisations over which the developed countries have more control, such as the OECD, World Trade Organisation, IMF and World Bank.

The developing countries have had to fight continuously to slow down or stop the decline of the UNCTAD and the UN in general.

At UNCTAD 14, the delegations spent hectic days and sleepless nights to thrash out hundreds of disputed paragraphs which could not be agreed on even after many months of negotiations in Geneva.

Principles or even phrases that have long been agreed to as part of global cooperation are now challenged or even made taboo by the developed countries.

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by Martin Khor

Photo credits: Getty Images

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