unctad.org | Thirty-first Executive session of the Trade and Development Board
Statement by Mr. Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
Thirty-first Executive session of the Trade and Development Board
09 Mar 2003

Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

This morning I will focus on preparations for our next conference, UNCTAD XI, and my own thinking on how they should proceed. A more detailed text is being circulated among you.

Allow me first of all to remind you of something we have discussed before: namely, that the conference and its preparations should be viewed as a catalyst for helping us do our work better, and not as UNCTAD´s raison d´être. I have said many times that I never felt comfortable with the word "conference" in the UNCTAD name, because I do not think it reflects what UNCTAD is. That "conference" label gives the impression that what really matters in our organization is the periodic conferences, which of course is absurd. When we meet in Brazil next year, we will be celebrating the first 40 years of UNCTAD´s existence, which is enough time for any institution to have established and consolidated its role. This is why I do not really believe that everything should revolve around the preparations for, or the celebration of, a conference once every four years. Here, as in any other institution, there is an accumulation of experience and of work that has been performed over the years - what the European Commission calls an acquis, a sort of constitutional charter. On the other hand, however, there is a need for constantly adapting to new challenges and trends, for addressing new demands that arise every few months. These two aspects of what we are should not be considered contradictory; on the contrary, they are complementary. Nor should anyone question the constitutional charter of UNCTAD, which has been well established for many years by dozens of General Assembly resolutions.

What is needed now is, as always, to start from the reality we are facing - the here and now - and begin the process of reflection, looking back at where we stood three years ago when we met in Bangkok, and at where we stand now. We must of course do this from the perspective of development, because that is the basic substance of our work. And even though three years is a relatively short period of time in world history, these particular three years witnessed some extremely important events which will have profound implications for the future of humankind, and in particular for development. It is this reflection that should be the starting point for our preparatory process.

This reflection should be undertaken, as has always been the case at UNCTAD, from a dual perspective. One is the attempt to capture the comprehensive external context of development - in other words, the forest and not the trees - trying to make sense of all the important changes over the past few years that have affected development, and ascertaining how those global processes are affecting the outlook for development. The second perspective is that of the countries themselves and their national development strategies, taken not in isolation but within a subregion, region, continent and in the international context as a whole. It is this interaction - a system of constant action and reaction - that we should try to capture in our analysis, so as to apprehend not a static panorama of the world but a dynamic, ever-changing one in which global processes and negotiations on the one hand, and national development strategies on the other, are constantly influencing and acting upon one another.

According to one of the many dozens of definitions of globalization, it is the kind of process in which everything that is global acquires local importance, even at the level of the smallest unit, and at the same time, everything that is local is also important for the global context. This definition allows us to grasp the idea of a system, of constant interaction.

Our role over the coming weeks and months is twofold: First, we should help our member States to make sense of what is happening in the global system; to understand what it means for them, in their different positions and at their different levels; and to analyse those trends and come up with their own ways of meeting new opportunities and challenges. Secondly, we should help the international, collective decision-making process to understand the needs of individual countries and why they have succeeded or failed in doing whatever was necessary to ensure steady development in their economies and social organization.

This is, as I have said, a dual perspective or task, and in the process of analysis, the first clear conclusion is that this is precisely what we have been doing all along; we have been following this path for many years. Our reports, expert meetings and commissions have all been trying to meet the expectations of this dual perspective or task. What, then, will be new in all this? What is new is what was not there before - that is, the new opportunities or difficulties we face. What is new is also this constant effort to enhance the synergy, cohesiveness and cooperation among the different parts of the secretariat. In this respect, I think we all recognize there is room for improvement. I must say, however, that I have been encouraged in recent weeks by the meetings of our various commissions, as we saw this spirit very much present in most of them, and probably much more so than in previous years. This has strengthened my conviction that we are moving in the right direction, and that it is possible for us to improve on the delivery of our work as we prepare for the eleventh conference, by using it as a catalyst to better integrate our work.

In this spirit, I would like to suggest that the conference should be broad in scope, covering all aspects of development, but also sufficiently focused to lead to concrete outcomes that can provide us with a clear sense of direction for our future work. And that direction will, I hope, lead us back towards our present vocation: helping to build linkages between negotiations and the productive sector. By negotiations, I am not referring only to trade, but to other areas as well. And by productive sector, I mean enhancing the capacity of developing countries to take advantage of opportunities in negotiations, and to influence those negotiations in a proactive, constructive manner, trying to see how they can improve their competitiveness and performance in many areas. One of these areas is the capacity to generate technology in the broadest sense, not just sophisticated technology, but also simple technological applications that will improve their commodities sector, for example. Another area relates to export competitiveness in general: how countries can improve their presence in the market - that is, improve it in the direction indicated by our analysis, by adding more and more value to the production chain. A third area concerns how to improve the structure of production - enterprises - paying particular attention to the small and medium-sized actors, by mobilizing both national capacity and foreign direct investment. Finally, how to achieve these goals by working with different actors: not just Governments but also the private sector, civil society organizations that are committed to development, and other international organizations, as we did in Lyon at our Partners for Development Conference in 1998. In my opinion these areas could all serve as guidelines for continuing the work we have been conducting here at UNCTAD.

Let me conclude by sharing some information with you. While informal consultations have been taking place with member States on some of these ideas, we have also begun to intensify preparations for the logistical aspects of the conference. We have held several meetings with representatives of the Brazilian Government, most recently last week, and I will soon be meeting the Foreign Minister to discuss logistics further. We hope to send our first mission to Brazil in a few days to launch the preparations in practical terms. We will of course report to you as soon as we have the proposed dates and venue.

Thank you very much, Mr. President, for this opportunity.


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