UNCTAD’s thirteenth quadrennial ministerial conference (UNCTAD XIII), to be held in Doha, Qatar, from 21 to 26 April, is a unique opportunity for the international community to reflect on how to surmount the crises gripping the economies of both the South and North and affecting their populations. Attended by representatives of the highest level from UNCTAD’s 194 member States and by many notable figures from business and civil society, the Conference could lay the groundwork for better coordinated measures for dealing with the current situation so that globalization focuses more closely on equitable development. That can be achieved only if there is shared economic prosperity that respects the environment, and if governments listen to and take account of people’s concerns and the prospects of coming generations.
Beginning in 2007, the crises – the financial crisis, followed by the food crisis, energy crisis, and economic and monetary crises – caused world production to drop by 10 per cent between 2008 and 2010, destroying 68 million jobs in 2011 alone. In his report to UNCTAD XIII, UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi notes that neither the Bretton Woods institutions nor the G20 have managed to devise a sequence of responses consistent with the changing economic and political situation. International coordination, as it currently stands, has shown its limits, and it is now urgent to turn to a new kind of globalization – one that is focused on development. “Neither muddling through nor a return to business as usual will get things back on track,” Mr. Supachai says.
Developing and developed countries have a common interest here: boosting world economic growth. Developing countries must do so to sustain economic development, improve standards of living, and eradicate extreme poverty; and developed countries need to maintain their quality of life by means of renewed job creation while keeping existing social systems in place.
For UNCTAD, one of the ways to get the world economy back on track is to return to the spirit and letter of the Doha Ministerial Declaration issued by the Fourth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 14 November 2001. The promise made then -- to put the economic development of poor countries and the fight against poverty at the heart of the Doha Development Round negotiations -- has yet to be fulfilled.
Increasing the spending power of low-income groups is still the most effective way to boost demand for goods and services, UNCTAD contends. If this economic rule were applied to the billion people left on the sidelines of the global economy, to all developing countries, and to the poorest fringes of society in emerging and developed countries, a reservoir of demand for goods and services is there to be tapped, stimulating the world economy as a whole.
Giving substance to the spirit of Doha
Since its last ministerial conference, held in 2008 in Accra, Ghana, UNCTAD has catalysed a range of trade initiatives and partnerships promoting fair, sustainable development in developing countries.
The Global Commodities Forum, established by UNCTAD three years ago, provides a unique platform for discussing the major stakes involved and for coming to grips with major problems such as the financialization of commodity markets which is leaving the world’s poorest hungry.
The aim of the Global Investment Forum, which will meet for the third time in Doha, is to attract investment in developing countries that will increase supply capacity in those countries. To the same end, UNCTAD will launch the first Global Services Forum at UNCTAD XIII. This should boost the potential of the services sector by identifying appropriate measures for improving the political, regulatory and institutional framework and building capacity to deliver services, while identifying new export opportunities.
UNCTAD has given increased support to the trade negotiations taking place under the Global System of Trade Preferences among Developing Countries (GSTP), a successful South-South cooperation initiative. Eleven countries already have signed the GSTP agreement adopted during the Sao Paulo Round, and their trade in commercial goods will rise as a result.
To ward off any temptation towards protectionism, UNCTAD, in conjunction with the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the International Trade Centre, has launched the Transparency in Trade Initiative, mounting watch against any emerging obstacles, in the form of non-tariff barriers, to exports from developing countries.
Since free competition is a vital part of a business-friendly framework, UNCTAD continues to help developing countries and transition economies draw up competition policies and legislation, in part by strengthening international and regional cooperation so as to encourage the adoption of best practices, and by providing a forum for discussion and exchange. Initiatives taken in this regard include the COMPAL and AFRICOMP programmes, which embrace a wide range of technical assistance in competition and consumer-protection law and policy for countries in Latin America and Africa.
The UNCTAD XIII programme and related documents may be found on the Conference website at http://unctadxiii.org/en/Pages/home.aspx.
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