Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Reports on UNCTAD XIII

From Victory at UNCTAD XIII by Deborah James:

"The final Declaration provides support -- approved by the developing and developed countries alike -- for a strong mandate for UNCTAD's vital work on financial and related crises. Amazingly, this was the most contentious aspect of the text. Developed countries originally even opposed the inclusion of language recognizing the existence of the global financial and economic crisis. A red line for the U.S. was on language mandating UNCTAD to work on the "root causes" of the crisis -- probably because the implied culpability, since the U.S. was the epicenter of the financial crisis of 2008-2009.
The key contested paragraph 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." While this mandate could have been broader, negotiators in the G77 group of over 100 developing countries -- together with civil society support -- were able to push back and wouldn't back down.
Why would such seeming innocuous language be so controversial? This is because UNCTAD has been the source of some of the most accurate and comprehensive analyses of the causes and impacts of the global financial crisis and recession. And it has been proposing solutions that are anathema to those who wish to maintain "business as usual" in global economic and finance policies the aftermath of the crisis."

Vijay Prashad says in Draw at Doha:
"Raja Khalidi, a senior economist at UNCTAD, concurred. UNCTAD XIII "noted the global economic realities and UNCTAD's role in providing critical analysis of their implications." The Swiss Ambassador had a more measured response, telling Bloomberg that the agreement "gives more precision" to UNCTAD's mandate so they "can't just do anything".
But thus far UNCTAD has not been able to "just do anything". Despite its many achievements, sections of UNCTAD have been smitten with elements of neo-liberal policy, such as carbon trading as a response to climate change. The carbon-trading model avoids the core problem, namely the North's energy waste and the South's lack of seriousness about alternative energy. There has been little concern for how the UN's Clean Development Mechanism is destroying forests and livelihoods.
There is also little evaluation of the mandate of UNCTAD's Center for Transnational Corporations, whose original mandate - to monitor corporations and create a Code of Conduct for them - had been transformed to reflect "the changing times and become more focused on the positive, rather than the negative, effects of Foreign Direct Investment and Transnational Corporations".
These elements of UNCTAD require some more self-scrutiny. The fierce opposition to UNCTAD from the North makes any serious self-criticism far harder to tackle.
Bankers need not worry yet. UNCTAD's reports do not threaten them. They do, however, irritate their counterparts at the IMF, the World Bank and the OECD. Challenges to their empirical claims and their theoretical blindness shall continue to fly out of the UNCTAD offices."
According to Jayati Ghosh
Unctad is astute and progressive – so why don't developed countries like it?:
"Some explanations for the apparently surprising attitude of developed countries can be found from the informal statements made by certain negotiators. One such representative of an important developed country told his counterpart from a major emerging market economy that they "did not want Unctad to engage in intellectual competition with the IMF"!
Intriguing, isn't it? Such people are usually all for competition in everything (certainly in labour markets) – except, apparently, ideas. Even more surprising is that the IMF and the World Bank, with their massive resources and humongous research departments, are still scared of a rather small organisation with only a handful of people producing their flagship reports.
The perception of "northern" interests also plays a role. For example, in Doha the big fights about what would go into the final text concerned issues like whether Unctad can work on global financial issues (the US opposed this) or on technology transfer, or even on the protection of traditional knowledge.
In fact, this is not about north versus south, even though it may have seemed like that in Doha. As it happens, the content and results of the research produced by Unctad are very much in the interests not just of developing countries per se, but of ordinary citizens all over the world, the 99% of popular imagination. The rearguard action fought by some negotiators to control and limit Unctad's work was more about trying to create a single homogenous approach to economic analysis and policy to be accepted globally, even if that approach is increasingly being exposed as misleading and downright wrong.
The governments of the United States and other developed countries are keen to export what they see as democracy to different parts of the world, and to point out (with respect to countries that try to control information and freedom of speech) that it is impossible to control the spread of ideas. Clearly, they need to learn the same messages themselves, especially with respect to ideas and economic analysis.
Fortunately, the active engagement of some of the Brics and other emerging nations proved to be critical in shifting the balance and preserving the basic role of Unctad in the conference. But the messy negotiations showed that taking the progressive agenda forward is going to be constantly challenged even as it becomes ever more relevant and necessary."
Some more reactions
Unctad gets fresh mandate by Martin Khor
UNCTAD XIII: Not much to cheer about from Bangla Desh Financial Express.
and here
My impression is that though the final mandate seems to be a success considering the determined opposition of some of the developed countries, as Nicaragua constitutional fights show, declaration is not enough. Moreover some elements of developing countries are believers of neo-liberalism and some are keen to exploit the least developed countries as grabs of land and mineral resources by some of the developing countries line China and India show. Nevertheless, It seems to be some progress.
P.S. Duncan Green has a link to the land grab statistics in http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=9914
See also his earlier posts UNCTAD like http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=9024
Still no mention of the conference in main stream blogs like Economist's view or the blogs devoted to aid.

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