unctad.org | Twentieth Special Session of the Trade and Development Board
Statement by Mr. Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
Twentieth Special Session of the Trade and Development Board
26 Jan 2003

Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I believe it is a good omen for the work we are preparing to undertake this year that we successfully concluded the very difficult consultations and deliberations on financing the participation of experts from developing countries and transition economies in UNCTAD expert meetings. This clears the way for the constructive involvement of delegations in this year´s work programme and beyond, looking ahead to UNCTAD XI in Brazil next year. I am happy to congratulate the President of the Board and the Regional Coordinators for their role in achieving this consensus and for demonstrating the necessary flexibility. All of your statements today stressed that one of the more useful changes in UNCTAD´s intergovernmental machinery has been the creation of these expert meetings. I made a special effort to attend most of the meetings that took place when I myself was present in Geneva, and I must say that I learned great deal - both from reading the background documents submitted by both the secretariat and experts and from following the discussions. We are all aware that some useful ideas raised in those meetings subsequently found their way into negotiations in other fora, or were instrumental in launching new initiatives in a number of countries. These meetings are an experience that should be pursued and improved, for example by expanding the choice of subjects, enhancing the quality of the preparatory work and seeking broader participation. Finally, I think we should pay more attention to outreach and to disseminating the conclusions of the meetings.

Of course, one of the crucial ingredients for the success of this experience is to ensure that countries in difficult financial conditions are not deprived of the chance to participate in the discussions - which is precisely the objective of the financing of experts. This is in some ways a new concept in international relations; it would certainly have been difficult to accept in the late 1950s, when I began my own diplomatic career, but a lot has changed in the ensuing decades, and we are all struggling to find ways to deal with these new realities. One of them, of course, is the emergence of civil society, non-governmental organizations and others, and how to integrate them meaningfully into the decision-making process. This is one of many examples of problems for which a satisfactory, lasting solution has yet to be found; another is what brings us here today: the financing of experts. I would just like to remind you that this problem is not exclusive to UNCTAD, but is a problem for international organizations in general. Take the deliberations at the WTO, for instance: in recent years, many similar decisions have been taken there, including that of financing the participation of LDCs or non-member countries in a special week of deliberations here in Geneva, to which countries are invited to send a representative at the expense of the organization. Another such decision was that of setting up a special mechanism to help countries that would like to participate in the dispute settlement procedures but that lack the resources to cover the very expensive legal fees. I could go on and on with many examples of current WTO practice that differ completely from the late 1980s and early 1990s, which is when I chaired the GATT Council and contracting parties. In those days such practices would have been totally inconceivable for the trade body, and the fact that these measures have been taken now demonstrates a very commendable willingness to adapt to new circumstances.

Today´s decision here belongs to the same type of measures, because it is not enough to finance the presence of delegations or representatives of developing countries in trade negotiations if those representatives are not in a position to make a meaningful contribution. In short, representatives must be well prepared, and the best preparation comes from previous exposure to deliberations, both formal and informal. Informal meetings, such as our expert meetings, give them the freedom to discuss ideas without the need to reach formal conclusions. By the time they reach the formal negotiating table, where they must negotiate on their Governments´ behalf, they are better prepared to take judicious decisions. All of these measures, then, are complementary and should be taken concurrently. And in the broadest sense of the term, they are all part of capacity-building - of helping developing countries to build local capacity to analyse trade problems and come up with practical solutions.

I am not entirely disappointed that we have been unable to find a solution once and for all because - as with all new challenges and developments - we must find criteria that will be acceptable to everyone. In this regard I believe it was extremely useful to listen to the comments made by the various groups. I would like also to congratulate all the delegates who participated in this decision, and to add my own voice to previous appeals for expert financing to those countries in a position to do so.

Mr. President, allow me now to say a few words about our preparations for UNCTAD XI. I am pleased to inform you that we have established an internal task force for the substantive preparations of the Conference. Before travelling to Africa two weeks ago, I chaired its first meeting, and I understand it has already some substantive discussions. I intend to consult with you, Mr. President, and with our member States next month in order to start consultations on the Conference agenda, which I hope to present for your approval at the executive session of the Board in March. Thereafter, the secretariat will draft the substantive document to launch the preparatory process. At that session I also intend to present you with some ideas on the organization and structure of the Conference. It would thus be premature for me to say much more at this point, particularly on matters of substance, but let me just flag a few points that may be useful for your own reflections on the preparatory process.

First of all, and perhaps paradoxically, sometimes I do not feel very comfortable about giving so much importance to preparations for our quadrennial conferences. Sooner or later we will have to abandon this legacy from the past, when everything centred around those big events. This is particularly true for UNCTAD, whose very name is a source of misunderstanding: On many, many trips abroad, I meet people who do not understand why UNCTAD is called a conference; even in some official documents, we are referred to as a committee or a commission or something else. We all know the historical reasons for our designation as a conference, but today it is a fiction, just as was the GATT´s designation as a contract. In reality, both the GATT and UNCTAD were established organizations, but people sustained the fiction that one was a contract and the other a conference.

This is not to suggest that we should change the name - although frankly I don´t think that would be such a bad thing, because the fact that we keep the name may give the wrong impression that what matters for us most is the quadrennial conferences, and this is not true. What should be important is the daily work, the work that we are conducting as a result of all past conferences, of our cumulative experience and successes, rather than the notion that each conference will reinvent the world, as if we were starting from scratch. While I do not think this should be our guiding principle, there is also no denying that quadrennial conferences like ours actually serve as a catalyst for taking stock and for generating new thinking. In my opinion, the most important task before us this year and next should begin with where we left off in Bangkok three years ago at UNCTAD X, because the context in which we worked then no longer exists. I do not need to enumerate the radical changes we have lived through since, as you know I am referring to the structure of international relations, problems of a strategic or political nature, and economic problems, such as prospects for the growth of the world economy and the expansion of trade.

This, then, must be the starting point - looking at where we were then, and where we are now. We should also have the humility to recognize that, just as we could not in February 2000 imagine what would happen in 2001 or 2002, so we must now continue to work in a fog of uncertainty about what the future holds. Of course, we will have to concentrate on what is specific to our mandate. I am not suggesting we try to cover the gamut of changes the world has seen, which are perhaps for the General Assembly to address. We should, however, try to identify the implications for our work of the changes taking place and how they will impinge on development; to devise strategies that will make the best of current trends, improve the climate and overcome negative factors. In dealing with these issues, we have to be attentive to the new realities emerging in developing regions and continents. Again, a quick glance reveals that in each of these continents or regions there is one subject in particular that is at the forefront of development concerns. In East or South-East Asia - the most successful region in the developing world - countries like Singapore are starting to rethink national development strategies and to consider specializing in areas where they believe the future lies. During my trip to the region last November, and even in a country as developed as Japan, I noticed how widespread this concern was with the economic outlook.

Other concerns prevail in Latin America, where negotiations are under way simultaneously on a regional trade agreement encompassing the whole continent and on bilateral and subregional agreements. At the same time there are important political changes, including in my own country. In general, the Latin American countries are increasingly conscious of the need for greater export competitiveness than their present levels, where they are still very dependent on traditional products. A completely different reality consumes Africa, with the emergence of NEPAD as the defining principle of regional cooperation. I have just returned from a week in Ethiopia, where I have been many times before to attend meetings of the African Regional Commission or the OAU, but this was the first opportunity I have had to visit the hinterland. In any case, the main purpose of my visit was to participate in the fourth "Big Table", which is a very successful mechanism initiated a few years ago by my colleague, the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Mr. Amoako. This is a very rich and very interesting event, which brings together ministers from donor countries, including the United States, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. These individuals, all of whom are greatly committed to development, gathered together for one a half days for informal discussions around a table, along with African finance ministers and representatives of the World Bank, the IMF and the OECD, because of their role in official development assistance; I was honoured to be the only representative of the UN aside from Mr. Amoako and the NEPAD secretariat. It was a real eye opener for me to see how much the African nations value this informal forum for practical discussions on the future of their development. In my statement, I attempted to concentrate on areas that have not been receiving as much attention as ODA, which dominated the previous Big Table meeting - namely, the productive sector, trade and investment, and enterprise development. These are all areas in which UNCTAD has a lot to offer, and I was very pleased by how receptive the gathering was to this kind of approach. Mrs. Clare Short in particular, but other participants as well, welcomed the idea of placing strong emphasis on the productive sector in discussions on NEPAD.

Forgive me this digression, which was intended to demonstrate the variety of new realities that did not exist in Bangkok three years ago, such as the emergence of NEPAD as the focus of development efforts for an entire continent. We have to reflect on those realities and on how we can participate meaningfully in this process and take these trends into account in our daily work. It is not that we have to reinvent everything, but that we must be attentive to changes over the past three years and to current trends if we are to become more relevant and useful to developing countries.

These very general comments do not address the substance of the problems but are intended to suggest to you what methodology we might adopt for our work this year and next, leading up to UNCTAD XI. The approach consists, as always, of starting from the here and now, taking stock of what is changing and trying - with great humility, because of the impossibility of predicting the future -to make the best possible use of our rational capabilities to make UNCTAD an increasingly useful instrument alongside the many other organizations and people of goodwill who are working on behalf of development.

In this spirit, and at the start of a new year, I am happy to welcome you all - not just the "veterans" of UNCTAD but also the new faces I see here today - those of you who represent the new generation of diplomats and internationalists. May I wish you all a very propitious year in which we progress towards our common goal, the cause of development.


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