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16 October 2003

UNCTAD´s eleventh conference next year will look at an increasingly critical issue in today´s interdependent world: the link between the national and international dimensions of trade and development. The relationship between a country´s ability to produce goods or services worth trading, on the one hand, and multilateral trade negotiations on the other, is not currently well defined, and coherence between the two parallel processes is lacking.

With the negotiating process recently stalled in Cancún, the Conference could "look at what could be done to set the multilateral trading system on the right course and deliver on the promises made at Doha", said Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, earlier this week.

Mr. Ricupero was speaking to the organization´s Trade and Development Board, which has been considering preparations for the Conference during its annual session in Geneva over the past two weeks (see UNCTAD/PRESS/PR/2003/100-103). UNCTAD´s highest policy-making body, the Conference meets every four years at the ministerial level to address emerging issues in trade and development and to review the organization´s mandate. The 11th session of the Conference will be held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from 13 to 18 June 2004 (see UNCTAD/PRESS/PR/2003/77).

Explaining the current lack of coherence, Mr. Ricupero said that "at the root of the reluctance of many developing countries to engage in trade negotiations is the realization that they are not really competitive and that many of them are totally dependent on one or two commodities. Perhaps too much attention has been paid to trade negotiations, and not enough to the supply-side response". The Conference will thus focus on the supply-side constraints of developing countries, with the ultimate aim of increasing their capacity to compete in the global marketplace.

UNCTAD´s role in the WTO negotiations is to help developing countries better understand the main issues on the negotiating agenda, through research, training and meetings.

A report prepared by the secretariat of UNCTAD (TD(XI)/PC/1) was intended to guide the Board in its deliberations on Conference preparations. The first part of that report sums up key developments during the 40 years of UNCTAD´s existence that have shaped the focus of its work and assesses the implications for development policy of major global developments over the past decade. The second part, a pre-Conference text to be discussed by UNCTAD´s member States in advance of the meeting in Brazil, addresses the overall topic of the Conference, "enhancing the coherence between national development strategies and global economic processes towards economic growth and development". The national and international dimensions of that theme are echoed in each of its subthemes: development strategies in a globalizing world economy; building productive capacity and international competitiveness; ensuring development gains from the international trading system and trade negotiations; and partnership for development. The latter, which cuts across the entire Conference agenda, concerns how civil society can contribute to the development process and to achieving the Millennium Development Goals set by the UN General Assembly.

Poverty, gender and the creative industries

In addition, says the report, the Conference could profitably devote some attention to issues that, while strongly linked to the economy and trade, go far beyond them in scope: the links between trade and poverty; trade and gender; and trade and the creative industries, the latter viewed from their economic perspective. These areas were "at the heart of UNCTAD´s mission because of their important human and social content and their ethical dimension", Mr. Ricupero told representatives of NGOs meeting in Geneva this week to prepare for the Conference. He said he hoped UNCTAD´s role in the debate would be that of catalyst, drawing attention to the centrality of the problems. Given also that the three issues were all multidisciplinary, involving multiple stakeholders, they would thus require consideration by a gamut of international organizations.

This fresh approach to subjects not previously in the limelight could help improve the contribution of trade to development and address the challenges and opportunities posed by globalization, Mr. Ricupero added.

The UNCTAD secretariat was guided by two overarching frameworks in putting together the Conference subthemes. The first is UNCTAD´s mandate as the principal organ of the UN General Assembly for development-related issues and as the focal point within the UN system for the integrated treatment of trade and development and interrelated issues in the areas of finance, technology, investment, sustainable development, as well as the mandate given the organization at its 10th session four years ago in Bangkok. The second is UNCTAD´s commitment to the implementation of the outcomes of recent global conferences, including the Third UN Conference on the LDCs, the Millennium Declaration, the Monterrey Consensus, the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the Doha work programme.

Within those broad frameworks, the Conference will examine three aspects of each subtheme: specific problems and challenges; the national and international policy responses required to deal with those problems, as agreed in recent global conferences; and how UNCTAD can contribute to enhancing coherence between the global and national processes in each of the subthemes.

Civil society role

UNCTAD and organized civil society are "natural allies", Mr. Ricupero told the NGOs. He said they shared the goal of fairer trade and finance systems, generally shared "the same critical attitude towards many contemporary trends", and "are moved by the same trust in organized action".

A series of parallel events, including a Civil Society Forum, are envisaged during the preparatory process and in Sao Paulo to allow civil society to express its views.

Preparatory process

Government representatives will meet on several occasions between now and the Conference. In addition, at press time the following other meetings were proposed: regional conferences on information and communication technology strategies for competitiveness and development (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 25-27 November); seminars on alternative development strategies in Latin America (November-December, in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico); forum on sustainable tourism in developing countries (date and place to be determined); and a workshop on export competitiveness (Germany, February 2004). Brazil will host discussions during the week immediately preceding the Conference on the interface of multilateral agreements and economic integration schemes; regionalism and South-South cooperation: the case of MERCOSUR and India; export competitiveness; and corporate responsibility for development: the commodity angle. Four workshops or "roadshows" on the music industry, the film industry, the financing and institutionalization of cultural industries, and cultural diversity will also take place in Brazil, on dates to be announced.

The Conference will be attended by ministers, representatives of UNCTAD´s 192 member States, officials from international, non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations, parliamentarians, academicians, entrepreneurs and the media. There will be a number of other events above and beyond the intergovernmental debate, including an investors fair, technology fair and solidarity market fair.

The Conference will be held at the Anhembi Convention Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil. With a population of 10 million, the city is one of the world´s five largest, accounting for 12% of national GNP, and is also the largest financial centre in Latin America. Sao Paulo will celebrate its 450th anniversary throughout 2004.

UNCTAD´s previous quadrennial conferences have been held in Bangkok (Thailand) in 2000; Midrand (South Africa), 1996; Cartagena de las Indias (Colombia), 1992; Geneva (Switzerland), 1987; Belgrade (former Yugoslavia), 1983; Manila (Philippines), 1979; Nairobi (Kenya), 1976; Santiago de Chile (Chile), 1972; New Delhi (India), 1968; and Geneva (Switzerland), 1964.

For more information, please contact:
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