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20 June 2006

UNCTAD should be a "think tank on development issues, firmly anchored" in its three working pillars of research and analysis, consensus-building and technical cooperation, say a group of eminent persons appointed by the Secretary-General of UNCTAD in a report released today. Within the context of the ongoing UN reform now under way, the organization should maintain and expand its independence and core competencies. The report, entitled "Enhancing the development role and impact of UNCTAD", contains 21 pragmatic proposals that reflect current thinking on development.

Within the context of the ongoing UN reform, UNCTAD should "stand as a distinct entity", the report says, "taking the lead for an integrated treatment of interrelated development issues of trade, investment, technology and finance. UNCTAD´s core competencies should be maintained and enhanced, and both the UN system and member States should "make good use of the existing pool of technical excellence on economic development policy issues and ensure [UNCTAD´s] contributions to the systemwide efforts of achieving the Millennium Development Goals".

The Panel of Eminent Persons was established by UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi in October 2005 to advise him on how to enhance the organization´s development role and impact. Among the report´s other recommendations:

  • UNCTAD should strategically position itself based on three principal criteria: comparative advantages; differentiation and complementarity; and strategic and catalytic intervention, so as to put the organization´s strengths to the best use in achieving development results.
  • UNCTAD should establish a global network of think tanks specialized in development policy advocacy and strategy-setting, along with an informal consultative peer review group of eminent development economists to look at the organization´s research and analysis.
  • UNCTAD should focus on its "flagship" publications and major study series on key development issues, targeting high-level policy makers.
  • UNCTAD meetings should come up with pragmatic solutions to development problems, with outcomes formulated as inventories of best practices, checklists, guidelines, sets of criteria or principles, and model frameworks.
  • The organization´s intergovernmental expert meetings should be turned into Standing Expert Groups with a possible life-span of two-to-four years.
  • UNCTAD´s current three commissions should be consolidated into two, focusing on trade and investment issues, respectively. The Panel also recommends a possible third commission on technology, should the UN´s Commission on Science and Technology for Development be reoriented to focus on ICT issues.
  • The high-level segment of UNCTAD´s governing body, the Trade and Development Board, should be replaced by a multi-stakeholder dialogue or a "Global Forum for Trade, Investment and Development", leaving ministerial involvement to the Conference, which the Panel proposes to biennialize.

The Panel also suggests that UNCTAD set up an advisory body composed of development assistance and recipient agencies to advise the Secretary-General on institutional strategies for technical cooperation and to review the impact of this work. It says the organization should consolidate its 400-plus technical assistance projects into four-to-five major programmes and increase its participation in country-level mechanisms for technical assistance and regional development programmes.

Within the broader UN context, the Panel urges all heads of multilateral agencies to sign a compact committing them to stick to the core competencies of their respective organizations and to contribute to a systemwide coherent approach at the country level in pursuit of the MDGs.

The Panel´s report is addressed to the Secretary-General of UNCTAD. While some if its proposals fall within his purview to implement, others will require consultations with member States. Still others will be entirely up to the member States to decide, and may call for consideration by the UN Secretary-General in the appropriate forums.

In introducing the report to UNCTAD´s member States this morning, Dr. Supachai said that improving UNCTAD´s functioning and impact was "a work in progress leading up to UNCTAD XII and beyond". The report would be pooled with the ideas emerging from other processes "to generate a momentum for strengthening the organization".

Members of the Panel, who served in their personal capacities, were Jagdish Bhagwati, Eminent Professor of Economics at Columbia University; Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and former Director-General of the World Health Organization; Joaquim Chissano, former President of Mozambique and former Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on the 2005 World Summit; Tarja Halonen, President of Finland and Co-Chair of the United Nations Millennium Summit; Benjamin Mkapa, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania; Co-Chair of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, and Member of the High Level Panel on the UN systemwide coherence; Lawrence Summers, President of Harvard University and former US Treasury Secretary and Vice President for Development Economics of the World Bank; and Long Yongtu, Secretary-General of the Boao Forum for Asia and former Trade Representative of China. The Panel was chaired by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil, who joined the UNCTAD Secretary-General in launching the report this morning. Mr. Cardoso also chaired the UN Secretary-General´s Panel of Eminent Persons on UN Civil Society Relations.

Downloads [PDF]: | Enhancing the development role and impact of UNCTAD [66 pages, 275 KB] |

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