unctad.org | Fifth session of the Commission on Trade in Goods and Services, and Commodities
Statement by Mr. Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
Fifth session of the Commission on Trade in Goods and Services, and Commodities
18 Feb 2001

It is always useful when we open a meeting like this to do some stocktaking of the past, as well as planning for the future. At this particular point in time, such stock-taking should cover the first year of implementation of the Plan of Action we adopted at UNCTAD X in Bangkok, exactly one year ago today. In planning for the future, especially for developing countries, we should organize our work over the next few years in such a way as to meet the challenges posed by the international economic system.

In opening this meeting, allow me to begin by taking stock of the expert meetings convened under your Commission´s auspices with the objective of assisting developing countries to participate successfully in multilateral trade negotiations. The expert meetings have addressed issues identified in the Bangkok Plan of Action, related in particular to agriculture, construction services, the protection of traditional knowledge and the impact of anti-dumping. I hope that, by bringing the experts´ perspectives to the attention of trade negotiators and national policy makers, the findings of these meetings will enhance the ability of developing countries to have their views and interests taken into account in current and future negotiations.

The task of the first expert meeting was to outline challenges and concerns faced by least developed countries (LDCs) and net food-importing developing countries (NFIDCs) as a result of the agricultural reforms stemming from the Uruguay Round. The realities identified by the experts were of great concern. After the lowering of trade barriers in developing countries, it was the rural poor -- over 70 per cent of the population in those countries -- who were the most affected by the exposure to cheap, often subsidized imports. They were also the first to suffer from the autonomous freeze of domestic support measures, including subsidies, which was locked in as multilateral commitments under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. Meanwhile, the food import burden increased due to a combination of such factors as 1) a steady fall in food aid; 2) local production losing out to cheap imports; 3) increased import prices for basic foodstuffs due to the export subsidy reduction in supplier countries; and 4) declining terms of trade for exports. All of these and many other factors have been amply documented in the presentations on numerous countries available to you in the meeting´s report. At the same time, multilateral trade liberalization - as so eloquently confirmed by trade statistics -- had not resulted in tangible benefits to agricultural exports, which account for a significant share of the foreign exchange earnings of many LDCs and NFIDCs.

Based on these findings, elements were suggested for inclusion in the agenda of the ongoing negotiations on agriculture. The outcome helped form the basis of negotiating proposals submitted by several least developed and net food-importing developing countries. The challenge we face now is to ensure that those concerns become an integral part not only of the negotiations but of their results.

The second expert meeting invited experts to share their national experiences on regulations and liberalization in the construction services sector and its contribution to development. Here, stringent technical and financial criteria and tied aid constituted major barriers, as did restrictions on the movement of persons, non-recognition of professional qualifications and technical requirements at various levels, without forgetting that another important factor undermining the competitiveness of developing-country firms is the use of subsidies and government procurement in international bidding procedures. Experts stressed the importance of participation in such projects resulting in an effective transfer of technology, and urged the assistance of multilateral financial institutions and bilateral donors. We count on action to be taken by the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank - with whom we recently held a long-distance dialogue on the subject - and other regional banks to help redress the structural imbalances affecting developing countries in this sector.

The experts also encouraged UNCTAD to promote the dialogue among all private and public players in this field in order to advance the interests of developing countries. This comes at a particularly important juncture: trade negotiations on services are about to take up specific sectors, and in that regard I would highlight the specific proposal recently tabled by the European Communities. Several proposals made good use of ideas discussed in the meeting for consideration at WTO negotiations.

The third expert meeting addressed systems and national experiences for protecting traditional knowledge, innovations and practices in the light of several developments, including the implementation of the TRIPS Agreement and the global loss of biodiversity and traditional knowledge. Traditional knowledge is often undervalued and underutilized. Problems examined by the experts were not only about how to preserve traditional knowledge but also how to make better use of it in the development process, and how to prevent its inappropriate use. Different protection options were considered, including the applicability of classic intellectual property rights instruments. At the national level, experts recommended strengthening customary laws and developing sui generis systems for the protection of traditional knowledge. They also called for exploring minimum standards of an international sui generis system for traditional knowledge protection.

These issues should be further discussed in such forums as the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore and the CBD Working Group on the Implementation of Article 8(j) and Related Provisions. Experts recommended that the issues should also be taken up in the WTO. UNCTAD, in cooperation with these intergovernmental organizations, was asked to promote follow-up actions, strengthen the traditional knowledge dimension in its capacity-building programmes and organize regional workshops - all of which we have already been doing. UNCTAD was also encouraged to assist interested developing countries in exploring sui generis systems for the protection of traditional knowledge, including possible multilateral aspects of such systems.

The fourth expert meeting analysed the impact of anti-dumping and countervailing duties. A number of suggestions were made as to dumping and injury determinations and how they could affect developing countries. The thrust of these suggestions was to alleviate the unnecessary adverse impact on these countries´ trade by ensuring two things: first, that they would not be subject to anti-dumping duties unless there were firms engaged in dumping and clearly responsible for injury in the importing countries, and second, that when such duties were applied, they would be no higher than necessary to alleviate such injury. Another reality described by experts from African countries in particular was the perceived influx into their markets of dumped imports and their inability to defend themselves effectively against injury, due to inadequate administrative and financial resources. This aspect certainly requires further study.

The outcome of these four expert meetings has been of great use for UNCTAD´s work in assisting developing countries in the field of trade. But our task is far from simple. We at UNCTAD need to meet two different kinds of concerns that are at times difficult to reconcile. On the one hand, we are required to assist developing countries to participate productively in trade negotiations, but on the other hand we must also ensure that the interests and views of all member States and groups of States are duly taken into account in our policy suggestions. In order to help developing countries, we need to suggest initiatives to change the status quo, but to do so might upset certain well-established interest groups. In such cases, what matters is to identify the best approach for promoting the improvement of the trading system in the sense of making it more responsive to development aspirations. For this, we must avoid being paralysed by the status quo.

UNCTAD´s efforts to help weaker countries participate fully in the global economy are founded on good faith and on an ethical commitment to making the multilateral trading system more development-oriented. During the years since the establishment of the WTO, the UNCTAD secretariat and member States alike have been fully aware of the fact that in performing this task and in fulfilling this commitment, our role and that of the WTO cannot be the same.

To define the frontiers between UNCTAD´s work and that of the WTO should not lead to any misunderstanding, provided we recognize that the WTO is basically a rule-making body with a dispute settlement mechanism, while our contribution is geared towards actively bringing the development perspective as a paramount concern into issues on the multilateral trade agenda.

The fact that we are not negotiating binding rules or agreements could be perceived as a source of greater flexibility and openness, enabling us to explore new avenues and confront a broader gamut of arguments or approaches to issues on the multilateral trade agenda. This is an important ingredient of creativity in UNCTAD´s work, one which member States must appreciate and take advantage of, given the increasing complexity we face in managing globalization.

Quite simply, the rules in debates that are not part of negotiations, such as the expert meetings and this Commission session at UNCTAD, should be more flexible and afford greater freedom and innovation than the rules that should prevail in a negotiating forum: we are facing different types of constraints, constraints which paradoxically offer greater synergies between all institutional stakeholders involved in trade and development. Such synergies draw on the dual perspective of rule-making on the one hand, and policy-oriented research and consensus-building on the other hand. In this context, UNCTAD´s comparative advantage is its ability to promote in an open and balanced manner new initiatives and ideas aimed at securing greater equity in international economic relations.

In conclusion, allow me to refer to Professor Gunnar Myrdal who, drawing lessons from his nine years as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, stated that a research group such as the ECE should "be a free and independent scientific agent, which approaches the problems and reaches and states its findings guided only by the inherited and established standards of the profession, without sideward glances at what would be politically opportune". He further said that "a great deal of credit is also due to governments, which have been willing to pay the price of the embarrassing things sometimes said about them, in order to obtain organized data and analyses which they value and which would not otherwise be forthcoming". Finally, he said that research organizations had a clearly practical purpose, and in the case of international organizations such as the ECE or UNCTAD, that purpose was "to serve the general aim of increasing rationality in the national and international policies of member countries".

Professor Myrdal appealed for what he eloquently called "statesmanship in research" -- a lofty goal which I believe should guide us in the near future. This would require above all the constant effort to treat trade negotiations as a necessary but not sufficient condition for making trade an effective instrument for growth, alongside investments, enterprise development, technology and other elements. In other words, trade negotiations, even when balanced, well conceived and successfully conducted, are not enough in themselves to allow countries to benefit from their potential. In order to help developing countries become more competitive in the use of the opportunities opened up by trade negotiations, UNCTAD, the secretariat and member States alike will have to match and integrate in the years to come the elements in multilateral negotiations that influence the conditions of access to markets, while at the same time focusing on the decisive factors that enhance the supply capacity of goods and services. I view this as one of the major challenges for our work over the next few years, not only in this Commission but in all of UNCTAD´s activities.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


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