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International accounting and Reporting issues: 2008 Review
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In November 2008, UNCTAD’s Intergovernmental Working Group of Experts on International Standards of Accounting and Reporting (ISAR) held its twenty-fifth anniversary session at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. This event marked an important milestone in the history of the Group of Experts – quarter of a century of work towards reliable and comparable corporate reporting. Through ISAR, the United Nations has been providing member States with a unique and inclusive forum for exchanging views and experiences on a variety of issues pertaining to corporate financial and non-financial reporting.

Since its establishment in 1982, ISAR has been playing an important role in the global arena. The Group of Experts was a pioneer in taking up issues such as environmental accounting and reporting and reaching consensus. ISAR has also played a leading role in researching, deliberating, building consensus, and providing useful implementation tools on various topics. These include a model curriculum for the qualification of professional accountants, accounting by small and medium-sized enterprises, corporate governance disclosure, corporate responsibility reporting, and practical implementation of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). ISAR has often been cited as a model for other UNCTAD expert meetings to emulate. The Group of Experts is to be commended for its exemplary dedication and contribution to this essential area of work.

Since the middle of 2007, world financial markets have been experiencing extreme turbulence. The centrality of reliable and comparable information for financial stability and for the ability of investors to assess risk and allocate resources to different investment opportunities has been painfully demonstrated by recent events. Since the onset of the financial crisis, accounting and reporting issues have gained unprecedented attention from major players around the world, including at the two G20 summits, the meeting of G8 finance ministers, the European Union’s Council of Ministers and the United States Congress. There has been considerable discussion about “levelling the playing field”. The main objective of a global set of financial reporting standards is to do precisely that. In this respect, it is important to note that at the United Nations Conference on the World Economic and Financial Crisis and its Impact on Development, member States encouraged major standard-setting bodies to enhance the representation of developing countries as appropriate. Now more than ever before, there is a need for transparency and clarity in corporate reporting. The risks of opacity and complexity, as is now obvious to all, are too great and pose too many dangers to the development of member States around the world, especially those States that can least afford it. In this respect, ISAR’s role is highly significant.

This publication contains ISAR’s deliberations at its twenty-fifth session on several topics in the area of corporate reporting. It is my hope that this publication will provide policymakers, regulators, standard-setters, boards of directors, researchers and other readers with insights into some of the timely issues on corporate reporting.

Supachai Panitchpakdi
Secretary-General of UNCTAD

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