UNCTAD Mid-Term Review starts debate on its role, mandate

Original Publication Date: 
11 May, 2006
A week-long meeting of the 2006 Mid-Term Review (MTR) of UNCTAD XI started Monday with key delegations and groupings giving their initial positions on the mandate and future role of UNCTAD, including in light of the current United Nations reform process.

Almost all major groups and countries referred to the larger context of the UN reform, with the developing countries stressing the need for the reform process to reaffirm and strengthen UNCTAD's mandate, while some developed countries were more guarded.

The Group of 77 and China stressed its 'organic link' to UNCTAD which it said must be enhanced for UNCTAD's long-term viability. However, the Group registered its displeasure that the Secretariat report on implementing the Sao Paulo Consensus had 'glaringly omitted' activities relating to cross-cutting issues in the Chapeau of the Consensus.

It also expressed concern about the 'diminishing development orientation of the work of different divisions in UNCTAD' and called for UNCTAD's 'development orientation and intellectual integrity to be upheld especially when it challenges conventional wisdom.'

This week's meeting is the first session of the Mid Term Review, with the theme on 'stocktaking of implementation of the Sao Paulo Consensus', which refers to the outcome document of the 11th session of UNCTAD held in Brazil in mid-2004.

The aim of the MTR is to evaluate implementation of the outcomes of UNCTAD XI, strengthen UNCTAD's role in its three pillars (research, consensus building and technical cooperation) and conduct a policy dialogue at the highest possible level.

This week's meeting will focus on stocktaking, the second meeting in June will focus on strengthening the three pillars and a third formal meeting in September/October will comprise a high-level policy dialogue and adopt the outcomes of the three meetings.

In an opening statement, UNCTAD Secretary General Supachai Panitchpakdi said UNCTAD must strive to keep up with the times, if not anticipate them, and needs to link its analytical work more closely to application on the ground.

'It is crucial [that] all our activities be well coordinated and synergized with those of other organizations, a concern reflected in the broader UN reform process,' he said, adding that a task force on management reform he set up is completing its work while a report from the Panel of Eminent Persons (to enhance the development role and impact of UNCTAD) will be ready in the summer.

The Group of 77 and China (represented by Ambassador Masood Khan of Pakistan) said the Group is committed to strengthening the organic link it has with UNCTAD in the interest of long-term viability of this UN body.

(In March, the G77 Chairman in New York wrote to the co-chairs of the Panel on System Wide UN Coherance to voice the Group's concern that the UN reform process should not erode the mandate of UNCTAD).

Referring to developments in the UN in New York, Masood Khan stressed that the MTR exercise is meant to reinforce, consolidate and implement the Sao Paulo Consensus, and that as the primary organization in the UN system for an integrated treatment of trade, development and related areas, UNCTAD is uniquely placed to contribute to coherence.

The universality of UNCTAD's membership and its role and expertise in macroeconomic issues enables it to evolve a development oriented systemic coherence between the UN system and other institutions such as the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO.

For the G77 and China, the most important cross cutting issues in systemic coherence were addressed in the Chapeau of the Sao Paulo Consensus. They include cooperation of UNCTAD with other organizations, UNCTAD's responsibility to contribute to international development goals, and the issue of 'shrinking policy space for developing countries in the wake of increasing interdependence and rule-based regimes of international economic relations.'

Masood Khan said the G77 and China failed to understand how these issues addressed in no less than 11 paragraphs of the Chapeau could have been omitted from the stocktaking report (prepared by UNCTAD secretariat).

'This is a glaring omission. We strongly call for redressing it in the outcome emanating from this meeting with a view to completing the work in the next two years.'

(For the meeting, the UNCTAD secretariat prepared reports on its activities in the implementation of various parts of the Sao Paulo Consensus; however, the reports did not cover activities relating to the Chapeau of the Consensus.)

The G77 and China said they generally appreciated the Secretariat's work in implementing the Sao Paulo Consensus. 'We however remain concerned about the diminishing development orientation of the work of different divisions in UNCTAD.

'It is important to use the lens of development in viewing the whole range of research and analytical work performed at UNCTAD. This UN body is primarily required to find development oriented solutions to the existing and emerging challenges faced by developing countries.

'This development orientation and intellectual integrity must be upheld especially when it challenges conventional wisdom.' The G77 added that it is important to ensure adequate and predictable funding for UNCTAD. It expected this meeting to guide the Secretariat in this direction.

Masood Khan said as UNCTAD's largest stakeholder, the G77 and China stressed the importance of implementing all elements of the Sao Paulo Consensus. The Group however listed issues of particular interest to it.

The issues included progress made on policy space, UNCTAD's role in promoting systemic coherence for development, its cooperation with other organizations, transparency and good governance of international monetary, financial and trading systems (including full participation of developing countries in global decision-making and norm setting), the use of UNCTAD's analytical capacity to identify solutions to developing countries arising from international financial instability, debt sustainability, impact of FDI on host countries, corporate social responsibility for development of hostcountries, reaping development gains from the trade system, development dimensions of IPRs and public interest flexibilities in the WTO's TRIPS agreement.

The G77/China statement concluded: 'Two years ago in Sao Paulo UNCTAD rose to prominence and established its relevance by forging a consensus not only within this organization but for multilateralism itself which was under attack. As we launch the MTR the broader political environment is again poised to test the mettle of the intergovernmental machinery of this body. The G77 and China are confident we can rise to the challenge.'

The European Union (represented by Doris Bertrand of Austria) said UNCTAD's work must be analysed not only by the yardstick of the Sao Paulo Consensus but in light of the UN reform process and the effectiveness of UN development activities.

The EU said UNCTAD has an important mandate in the UN system which remains highly relevant, and it should even better fulfill its mandate in the interests of all, especially the LDCs.

The MTR would allow the EU to monitor progress in three areas it had identified as priority: integrating trade and investment into national development policies, regional integration and South-South trade and commodity dependence and poverty.

The EU also stressed the need for an 'outcome management approach' and a 'results-based management' in UNCTAD. It wanted the MTR to assess whether UNCTAD had progressed and what remains to be done to enhance results. It also made some critical comments on the documentation provided by the Secretariat.