In an effort to contribute to improving the lot of nearly half the world´s population and open the "promise of prosperity" to everyone, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is to hold its ninth quadrennial conference (UNCTAD IX) in Midrand, South Africa, form 27 April to 11 May (1).
The objective of the Conference is to maximize the benefits of globalization and liberalization, while reducing the costs to the weaker economies. At the same time, the Conference will seek to address the issue of marginalization by devising strategies for integrating the "excluded 2 billion" into the mainstream of the world economy.
UNCTAD Conferences are the largest intergovernmental gatherings designed to promote development through trade and international economic cooperation. About 2500 participants from the 188 member States of UNCTAD are expected to attend UNCTAD IX. Most countries will be represented at the ministerial level.
Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Secretary-General of the United Nations, is expected to open the Conference on 27 April. Nelson Mandela, President of the Republic of South Africa, will address the inaugural session followed by the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Rubens Ricupero. A certain number of Heads of State or Government (to be confirmed) will address the opening session.
In the afternoon of 27 April, a round table on "The excluded 2 billion, Integrating people in the global economy", presided over by Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, will gather executive heads of international organizations, including the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Michel Camdessus, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization, Renato Ruggiero, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, James Gustave Speth, the Managing Director at the World Bank, Sven Sandström, and the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Rubens Ricupero.
The Conference proper will begin with the election of the President of the Conference.
The unifying theme of the Conference is "Promoting growth and sustainable development in a globalizing and liberalizing world economy". On the basis of an assessment of the development problematique in the context of today´s economic realities, the Conference will attempt to devise strategies for the future. In addition to global development strategies, the Conference agenda calls for "the promotion of international trade as an instrument for development in the post-Uruguay Round era" and "promoting enterprise development and competitiveness in developing countries and countries in transition". Finally, the Conference is to set priorities for the future work of UNCTAD.
Features of pre-conference text
UNCTAD IX is the culmination of intergovernmental deliberations that started more than a year ago. Governments met in Geneva in March to prepare a text (TD/367) which will be the basis for the negotiations at the Conference. Upon the decision by the UNCTAD Trade and Development Board to transmit this text to UNCTAD IX, the President, Ambassador William Rossier (Switzerland), termed it "an instrument for negotiations", as it reflected the views of all parties in bracketed text on the agenda topics. He added that given the short time available, there had not been negotiations proper. The Conference will have the task of finalizing the text in the light of discussions and negotiations at the ministerial level.
While the preliminary negotiating positions of delegations are contained in the bracketed text, there is convergence on a number of broad development concepts and on ways to promote growth and sustainable development. Underlying this emerging consensus is a recognition of the fact that the processes of globalization and liberalization in the world economy offer both opportunities for development and risks of marginalization.
"The globalization of production and the liberalization of trade offer opportunities for all countries and enable developing countries to play a more active role in the world economy. At the same time, these processes also increased the complexity and challenges involved in interdependence increasing the risks of instability and marginalization. (...) Some developing countries are already reaping the benefits. Others are less well placed to seize these opportunities."
"No country can evolve in isolation", the text states further. "Each is part of a global economy that is increasingly interdependent in terms of economic activities and expectations in respect of living standards."
Noting that "especially in Africa" economic and human well-being "lags seriously behind", governments recognize that "the challenge is daunting".
In the trade area, for instance, "not all countries have been equally positioned" to seize the new trading opportunities and "there is thus a real risk" that a large number of them "could become further marginalized".The importance of special measures for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to reduce the possible negative effects of the Uruguay Round Agreements is reaffirmed.
Governments are focusing on the basic question of how to enhance the integration of developing countries, particularly the LDCs, and of interested economies in transition into world trade and the international trading system. They are seeking agreement on measures which could enable these countries to derive maximum benefit from available trade opportunities in goods and services.
Attention is being given to the difficulties of commodity-dependent countries in integrating into the trading system, for example, by examining successful commodity diversification experiences and promoting the exchange of information among commodity producers and consumers.
While many efforts have been undertaken by developing countries in commodity and market diversification, some have been more successful than others. In many cases, particularly for Africa and the LDCs, "international assistance, enhanced market access opportunities, development finance, investment and technical cooperation can play a crucial role to complement domestic efforts", the text states.
It also calls on donors "to cooperate with producer countries to facilitate the introduction of risk management instruments through institution-building, training and familiarization, as well as adaptation of local banking systems".
"UNCTAD´s main role in the field of trade in goods and services should be to help maximize the positive impact of globalization and liberalization on sustainable development, by assisting in the effective integration of developing countries and economies in transition into the international trading system and addressing commodity issues, including the problem created by commodity dependence."
Views converge on the importance of competition policy; the Set of multilaterally agreed equitable principles and rules for the control of restrictive business practices (RBPs) is recognized as "the only multilateral instrument on RBPs and represents broad consensus of the international community on the importance of competition principles".
In order to enhance trade efficiency, UNCTAD should "assist developing countries, particularly the least developed countries, and countries in transition in generating trade-supporting services such as customs, transportation, banking and insurance, telecommunications or business information which are adapted to their particular requirements, with a particular focus on services addressing the needs of micro, small and medium-sized enterprise sectors". It should consolidate the Trade Point Network by making Trade Points fully operational and effective and by assisting interested countries in establishing new Trade Points.
Focus on enterprise development
Addressing the challenge of sustainable development requires action by both governments and non-governmental actors which form "the civil society". The latter consists of "companies, large and small and both domestic and transnational, private investors, non-governmental organizations, universities and research centres". As for the role of governments, the text terms it as being "essential" in most countries for the "provision of basic infrastructure, ensuring the appropriate policy environment, stimulating the development of entrepreneurship and promoting or undertaking, as necessary, some functions which cannot for reasons of scale or externality be adequately initiated by the private sector".
Foreign direct investment (FDI) is considered to be an instrument through which economies are being integrated at the level of production into the globalizing world economy by bringing a package of assets, including capital, technology and managerial and organizational skills, and access to foreign markets. It also stimulates technological capacity-building for production, innovation and entrepreneurship within the larger domestic economy through catalysing backward and forward linkages.
It is increasingly acknowledged that development policies, at both the national and international levels, need to be directed specifically at fostering viable and internationally competitive enterprises, including an entrepreneurial culture. Within this context, the particular need to foster the development and expansion of small and medium-sized enterprises is vital.
Developing countries and interested economies in transition are encouraged to develop or strengthen their national strategies for fostering enterprise development including through improvements that result in a sound regulatory framework for their development, with particular focus on small and medium-sized enterprises. In doing so, they are also encouraged to broaden and deepen their dialogue with their business community, so as to ensure that the enterprise development strategies take into account the needs of the private sector.
"International institutions and governments are invited to provide targeted assistance for the creation and strengthening of domestic enterprises of the developing countries through policies and measures to ensure market access for the growth of enterprises in developing countries; to provide access to information networks by enterprises; to enhance the transfer of technology to the developing countries through international trade and economic cooperation (...)".
UNCTAD should continue to provide a forum for intergovernmental discussions with the participation of representatives from the private sector, concerning issues related to privatization, enterprise development and international flows of investment. In particular, it should promote the international dialogue among development actors for the purpose of assessing the challenges and opportunities for enterprise development arising from the emerging new economic conditions, including the post-Uruguay Round environment.
Enhancing sustainable development
As regards the link between trade and environment, "governments should have as their objective to ensure that trade and environmental policies are mutually supportive for sustainable development". Furthermore, "changes in production and consumption patterns to make them consistent with sustainable natural resource use will be more difficult to effect if environmental costs and benefits are not taken into account in the prices of products, or if the adoption of environmentally preferable production methods are not facilitated by other means(...)".
As for the contribution by UNCTAD, governments share the view that one of its main challenges "will be to facilitate the process through which developing countries utilize the benefits of globalization to accelerate the attainment of the objective of sustainable development. For this purpose, it will be necessary first to monitor how some of the basic elements for sustainable development evolve and interact in an increasingly globalizing world economy, and to track changes in those interactions. Secondly, it will be necessary to evaluate the impact of these elements on the development process, seek new opportunities for the furtherance of development resulting from globalization and liberalization, and provide policy approaches and actions to help developing countries integrate into the world economy and achieve sustainable development."
Streamlining of UNCTAD´s intergovernmental machinery
Governments agree that UNCTAD´s intergovernmental machinery needs to be structured in accordance with the organization´s future work programme, which will be "more sharply focused" on issues "of central importance" to development "on which it can make a substantial impact". The number of meetings will be reduced.
This applies also to the UNCTAD Trade and Development Board, the organization´s highest executive body. The Board will hold only one regular session, instead of two as in recent years. The regular session will be held in autumn and last approximately 10 working days and contain a high-level segment. In addition, the Board can convene three one-day executive sessions a year, to deal with policy, management and institutional, or any urgent matters. When the Board is not in session, its elected Bureau will take care of housekeeping business.
The Board will have a smaller number of subsidiary bodies, known as Commissions, with greater delegation of decision-making. Their sessions will not exceed five days. Commissions can convene short expert meetings to assist them in their tasks.
Contribution to WTO Ministerial Meeting
UNCTAD IX is to assess the challenges and opportunities arising from the Uruguay Round Agreements from a development perspective. At the request of the United Nations General Assembly (Resolution 50/95 of 20 December 1995), this assessment will be transmitted to the first Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization, which will be held in Singapore from 9-13 December.
As for previous sessions, the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Rubens Ricupero, has prepared a report for the Conference (TD/366) which sets out the problematique of the topics before the Conference and contains proposals made by the UNCTAD secretariat.
The developing countries have met at the ministerial level in the various regions to coordinate their stance for the Conference. The Asian Group met in Amman (Jordan) from 6-11 January (see document AS/MM/77(VIII)/1/Rev.1), the Latin American Group in Caracas (Venezuela) from 16-18 January (LA/MM/77(VIII)/1), the African Group in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) from 13-16 February (AF/MM/77(VIII)/1).
In preparation for UNCTAD IX, international encounters among Government representatives and non-governmental actors, including the private sector and academics, were hosted by various countries on some major topics before the Conference. The first dealt with "technical cooperation for trade and development in the face of globalization" which took place in Ascona (Switzerland) on 23-24 November 1995 (see document UNCTAD IX/Misc.1). A seminar was held on "Environment, competitiveness and trade: A development perspective" in Helsinki (Finland) on 18-19 January 1996 (see document UNCTAD IX/Misc. 2). An International Round Table on the "Promotion of the private sector and the role of government" was held in Bonn (Germany) from 7-9 February 1996 (UNCTAD IX/Misc.4). Malaysia hosted a conference on "The East Asian development: Lessons for a new global environment" in Kuala Lumpur from 29 February to 1 March (UNCTAD IX/Misc. 3). A conference on "global capital flows in economic development" took place in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, U.S.A. from 7 to 9 March. Finally, an expert meeting on "Technology: Partnership for capacity-building and competitivity" was convened in Helsinki (Finland) from 10 to 12 April (UNCTAD IX/Misc.5).
Furthermore, about 60 representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) met in UNCTAD on 2-3 November 1995 in order to show their perspectives on the issues before UNCTAD IX and to organize the NGO contribution to the Conference.
Pre-UNCTAD IX press conference
The President designate of the Conference and the Secretary-General of UNCTAD are scheduled to give a joint press conference on 26 April at 11 a.m. at the Conference premises.
The general debate in plenary is scheduled to start on Tuesday 30 April and will last four days, with ministerial round tables in the mornings on the agenda topics. The Committee of the Whole will meet in parallel with the plenary throughout the first week of the Conference. Two Drafting groups are scheduled to meet simultaneously from 6 to 8 May followed by a Contact group. The final plenary is scheduled for 11 May. The Conference will be preceded by a one-day meeting of Senior Officials on 26 April.
About 100 NGOs from around the world will gather in South Africa from 24 to 27 April to bring an informed NGO perspective to the intergovernmental deliberations at UNCTAD IX. The NGO event will take place at the Eskom Centre, a site two kilometres away from the Conference premises.
Ministers of the Group of 77 will meet on 28 April to adopt a Declaration on UNCTAD IX and the future role of the Group of 77 in UNCTAD. There will also be a meeting of the Ministers of the Least Developed Countries on 1 May.
The Seventh Raul Prebisch Lecture will be given on 29 April by Professor Jagdish Bhagwati, Arthur Lehman Professor of Economics and Professor of Political Science, on the theme: "The Global Economy or the Global Age: An Opportunity, not Peril". The Raul Prebisch lectures were instituted in 1982 in honour of UNCTAD´s first Secretary-General.
Three seminars will take place on: Development strategy and management of the market economy (29 April); Risk capital investment in Africa (6 May); and, Trade, environment and sustainable development (7 May - jointly with UNEP).
On 7 May a joint UNCTAD/World Bank Colloquium will address the following theme: "Integrating developing countries into the global economy: challenges and opportunities".
An international business conference on Africa, called Africa Connect, will be held in Midrand, South Africa, from 2-4 May. This planned 500 strong business gathering is deliberately timed as a parallel event to UNCTAD IX and will be taking place at the same venue. It is organized jointly by UNCTAD and the South-Africa Council of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). Africa Connect is an expression of the desire of the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, to involve more closely the private sector and other non-governmental actors in UNCTAD´s efforts to maximize the benefits of the globalizing economy for development.
The purpose of Africa Connect is to boost business in Africa through identifying opportunities for international and cross country investment and trade. According to UNCTAD figures, in 1995, Africa, with about 12% of the world population, received only 2% of world Foreign Direct Investment and accounted for merely 2% of world trade. The continent however has the potential to fully participate in the benefits of a globalizing world economy. For instance, the World Investment Report 1995, published by UNCTAD, showed that the average rate of return for United Sates´ subsidiaries in Africa in recent years is higher than in both other developing and developed regions.
Africa Connect will bring together business leaders from African firms and transnational corporations, African Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Investment Promotion Agencies and high ranking government officials, including Ministers of Trade and Industry and Ministers of Finance.
Southern African business leaders and high?level civil servants will gather to discuss recent developments in the process towards global trade efficiency at the South Africa´s National Event on Trade Efficiency, also to be held in Midrand in parallel with UNCTAD IX. The Event is composed of the Executive Symposium on Trade Efficiency (29-30 April) and an exhibition of electronic trading technologies open from 30 April to the end of UNCTAD IX, and during the successive G-7 Conference on "Information Society and Development" (13-15 May). The National Event is organized by the South African Department of Trade and Industry with the substantive and technical cooperation of the UNCTAD secretariat and the partial funding by the Government of Switzerland. On the private sector side, IBM, Portnet and the Standard Bank of South Africa also sponsor the meeting.
Building on the success of the United Nations International Symposium on Trade Efficiency (UNISTE, Columbus, Ohio, USA, October 1994), the Midrand Executive Symposium will consist of six interactive, action-oriented panels. Speakers from Southern Africa and from international organizations at the forefront of trade efficiency will present new developments in each of the main trade-supporting services, i.e. Customs, transport, banking and insurance, telecommunications, business information and trade facilitation.
The GTPNet in Midrand
Over forty Trade Point managers from developing countries and economies in transition and thirty from developed countries will have the opportunity to discuss the status of development of the Global Trade Point Network (GTPNet) at the Midrand Executive Symposium. They will display their products and services at the technological exhibition, where a model Trade Point will also be displayed. A World Trade Point Directors´ meeting and two meetings of experts dealing respectively with (1) information exchange and standards in the GTPNet, and (2) financial sustainability and cooperation among Trade Points will also be held from 1 to 3 May.
Trade Points are:
- Centres for facilitating trade transactions, bringing together the services of all potential agents involved in trade (Customs, banks, transporters, insurance companies, etc.) either physically or via electronic connections;
- Sources of trade-related information on markets, procedures, regulations;
- Gateways to global networking using modern technology to provide access to international databases, find trade matches and open the door to electronic commerce.
GTPNet has expanded rapidly since its official launching in October 1994 at the United Nations International Symposium on Trade Efficiency (UNISTE). Currently, 97 countries are involved in GTPNet ?? of which 17 are LDCs ?? and contacts have been established with UNCTAD by another 17 countries, including 6 LDCs. There are 32 operational Trade Points in 21 countries and another 142 Trade Points either requested, being set up, or moving towards being fully operational.
Over GTPNet, Trade Points exchange a variety of trade?related information. In particular, ETOs (Electronic Trading and Investment Opportunities) have been broadcast throughout GTPNet since 1993, and have led to many completed trade transactions. A Trade Point Expert Group has recently finalized the first international standard for trading opportunities which is fully UN?EDIFACT compatible. The group will meet again in Midrand to discuss the implementation of this standard.
The GTPNet has a WorldWideWeb (WWW) site (http://www.unicc.org/untpdc). As of March 1996, there were two main GTPNet servers and 10 Mirror Sites in Asia, the Pacific, North America, and Eastern and Western Europe. In January 1996, the number of hits registered at GTPNet sites was over 4.3 million, i.e. approximately 100 hits per minute.