22 Sept 06 - UNCTAD meets Civil Society

TDBCivil society should be more engaged in UNCTAD's work, said non-governmental organizations and government representatives meeting prior to UNCTAD's yearly board meeting. As civil society is more in tune with the population, they are also more likely to find solutions to development problems.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) - non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academics - and private sector representatives met with UNCTAD on 22 September. The meeting, which took place on the eve of UNCTAD's Trade and Development Board (TDB), was an opportunity for non-state actors to discuss with member States issues of mutual concern to be addressed by the Board.

The following is a brief summary of the outcome of the meeting:

CSOs - a force to reckon with

Although development problems are well documented, how to solve them is a recurrent question for many organizations and governments. Being in direct contact with the population, civil society is well positioned to identify possible solutions.

Relationship between UNCTAD and CSOs

Participants agreed that CSOs have a valuable role to play at UNCTAD. With their direct contacts on the ground, CSOs give a human face to development.

CSOs should be used as tools, not ornaments, said one representative. They should contribute more systematically to meetings, research activities and technical cooperation partnerships.

The private sector clearly is a key partner in economic development as it works closely with policy-makers to ensure business concerns are taken into account.

What UNCTAD can do

Participants see UNCTAD as a unique institution that deals with developing country issues related to trade, investment and development. They indicated that UNCTAD's role is clear: it should contribute to a fairer world economic system.

UNCTAD should:
  • Ensure its research is innovative and ahead of the curve

  • Strive for excellence and credibility in its research, as it is used by national policy makers

  • Encourage debate on the reform of financial institutions and other key issues

  • Promote alternative modes of trade through dialogue and research. UNCTAD should be more 'politically'

  • Contribute more to achieving a fairer world economic system by being more efficient and effective.


Trade liberalization. The benefits of liberalization and globalization are experienced differently by different groups and interests - within countries as well as between countries. Trade liberalization should become an objective and not only be used as a tool, said some CSOs.

Role of consumers. Consumers can stimulate the private sector to be more dynamic and countries should see to it that policies in force encourage demand, including through fair wages.


Employment plays an important role in poverty reduction but the challenges are enormous, especially in developing countries where un- and under employment are endemic. To ensure sustainable development governments should focus on the quality of employment -the so-called decent work challenge.

Informal sector. Many poor people, particularly women and the young, work in the informal sector. They are therefore less protected and do not have the kind of bargaining capacity that can help them bring about better working conditions. Neither do they have the knowledge and marketing capacity to understand how to take advantage of opportunities in global trade.

Productive capacities, poverty reduction, aid and Africa

Many developing country businesses, mainly small farmers and micro enterprises, have not been able to jump on the trade bandwagon. They do not have the opportunities to export due to their small size and their lack of capacity to meet standards and to market products. One solution, said a CSO representative, is to adopt pro-active policies focused on building productive capacity.

Aid for Trade

Participants agreed that there is still uncertainty as to what is meant by aid for trade.
  • Is it training for negotiators?

  • Is it helping to implement commitments? or

  • Is it building infrastructure and investing in industrial development?

The issues of good governance and anti-corruption measures were raised. Where does aid go? Who does it help?

Some CSOs questioned whether aid was even the answer - sometimes "help" can actually do more harm than good by supporting a structure where the recipients of aid will always be dependent on the powerful.

Quick Links:

| Report of the Hearing: English | French | Spanish | Arabic | Russian |



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