The 2015 UNCTAD Global Commodities Forum tackled new dynamics in international agricultural markets, and policy options for commodity-dependent economies in Geneva from 13-14 April.
The Global Commodities Forum is an annual multi-stakeholder meeting where participants can debate potential solutions to problems in the commodity economy. The theme of this year's Forum was "Trade in Commodities: Challenges and Opportunities".
At the opening panel, keynote speaker Yilmaz Akyuz, Chief Economist at the South Centre said that while most developing countries had managed the boom better than in the 70s, they are still vulnerable as they enter the current downturn.
Commodity-dependent economies had used increasing revenues to improve budget balances and shore up public finances until 2008, but after 2008 balances had deteriorated and public debt increased. "Most countries are entering the downturn without fiscal space," he said. Looking ahead, Mr. Akyuz highlighted the importance of managing public spending and looking carefully at the implications of trade agreements in this context, and of using international reserves carefully to manage currency volatility.
At a session on governance of the Swiss commodity trading sector, campaign group Berne Declaration, outlined a proposed regulatory authority for the sector. Berne Declaration advocates for more equitable relations between Switzerland and developing countries, and modelled its proposal on the regulation of the Swiss financial sector and money laundering legislation. The proposal sparked debate between representatives of the Swiss government, commodity traders and transparency advocates. While all panellists agreed on the need for governance reform, there was debate about the impact of hard law regulation compared to voluntary standards such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
Another session on New Dynamics in International Agricultural Commodity Trade Policies discussed the aftermath of the 2013 Bali Package agreed at the WTO, and the prospects for a development-friendly conclusion to the Doha Round of negotiations. Experts expressed concern that while the Bali Package represented a significant step forward for developing contries the proof would be in the implementation, which was not yet settled.
Nicholas Imboden, Executive Director, IDEAS Centre Geneva, argued that Least Developed Countries would only improve food security by increasing the productivity of small farmers and by being more proactive in proposing their own commitments in WTO negotiations.
Renewable energy production was under the spotlight at a session on The Prospects for Renewables In A Lower-Carbon energy mix. The cost of solar power is at a historic low, but other renewables, such as hydro power, are becoming more expensive. Access to capital remains the key challenge for developing countries, said Daniel Favrat, Director of the Energy Centre at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne.
Nicholas Imboden, IDEAS Centre Geneva
The first and foremost interest of LDCs is to ensure that the Doha Development Agenda can be concluded within a reasonable time and according to its development objectives. This may well be the last chance.
Rene Bautz, World Energy Council - Global Gas Centre
The world population is expected to grow by two billion by 2050, leading to a 30 per cent hike in global energy demand. Natural gas could provide a short-term solution to global energy needs, as it leads to 20 per cent less carbon dioxide emissions than coal.
Sanya Reid Smith, Third World Network
IMF research shows that when developing countries remove export taxes, they are able to raise at best 30 per cent of this revenue from other sources such as VAT. Developing countries have less space to pursue other fiscal policies.