PSPD in English Archive 2000-07-31   2209

The challenge to UNCTAD

The Challenge to UNCTAD

Jung, Eun-Sook (Volunteer PSPD)

Reform is a viable strategy when the system in question is fundamentally fair but has simply been corrupted, such as is the case with some democracies. It is not a viable strategy when a system is so fundamentally unequal in purposes and processes as the WTO. In other words, what developing countries and international civil society should aim at is not to reform the WTO but, through a combination of passive and active measures, to radically reduce its power and to make it simply another international institution coexisting with and being checked by other international organization, agreements, and regional groupings. Bello Walden, Why reform of the WTO is the wrong agenda, Focus on the Global South, 2000. These would include such diverse actors and institutions as UNCTAD, multilateral environmental agreements, the International Labor Organization, and so on.

The conference was divided into two parts: an NGO plenary caucus for adoption of NGOs statement for the tenth session of UNCTAD, and the workshop for alternatives to liberalism. There were about 200 participants from different NGOs from all over the world.

On 7-8 February 2000, organizations of civil groups meeting at an NGO plenary Caucus adopted a number of proposals from their deliberations. The proposal covers four topics: agriculture and food security, debt and reparations, finance, and labor. Official Version of UNCTAD and Civil Society: Towards Our Common Goals adopted in NGO Plenary Caucus, 10 Feb. 2000

Agriculture and Food Security

Food sovereignty is a fundamental right of each nation, and food security is the right of all people. For developing countries food security is a matter of livelihood security. Therefore disciplines on agricultural trade which curb developing countries” ability to implement policies for food security should be taken out of the WTO. In achieving these, UNCTAD should recognize the negative social consequences of contract farming, and oppose its continued extension by corporate agribusiness as a means of rural development. UNCTAD should lead developing countries in negotiating for adequate competition disciplining of agribusiness, and promote regional or South-South cooperation and fair trade in agriculture and fisheries in order to encourage greater diversification, sustainability, and self-reliance in food production in and among developing countries.

Debt and Reparations

Existing proposals for debt ‘relief’ do not release the indebted countries from debt bondage, nor address the fundamental causes and recurrence of the debt problem. Instead, they further subject developing countries” people and economies to the pressures and dictates of countries, institutions, and corporations. The civil societies reject the HIPC initiative, and the repacking and perpepuation of the IMF and the World Bank structural adjustment programmes under the guise of the growth and poverty reduction facility.


UNCTAD should press for the abolition of IMF and World Bank stablilization and structural adjustment programmes. In light of the failure of the G7 to seriously respond to the crying need for a transformed global financial architecture, UNCTAD should actively discuss and make proposals in this area, and help forge an agreement among its member countries that would put such a system in place. This architecture should involve capital controls at national, regional, and international levels, including the Tobin tax. These innovations are necessary for global financial and economic stability. The design of this architecture must not be dictated by the policies or interests of the banks, hedge funds, the IMF, World Bank, and the finance ministries of the G-7 countries. UNCTAD should also press for the abolition of tax havens in countries and territories. UNCTAD should ensure that the dynamics of finance capital does not destroy social, cultural, and natural capital, and supports, among other things, the achievement of food security.


The current approach to trade and development has significantly worsened the situation of workers around the world. The civil societies believe that UNCTAD member governments have the clear responsibility to guarantee the fundamental labor rights of their citizens, and the responsibility as civil society organizations to provide solidarity and to help strengthen labour movements in the South.

All UNCTAD member governments should immediately ratify and ensure effective implementation of the core ILO conventions, specifically Convention 87 (Freedom of Association), Convention 29 and 105 (Forced Labor), Convention 100 (Equal Pay for Equal Work), Convention111 (Discrimination in employment), Convention98 (Organizing and Collective Bargaining), and Conventions 138 and 182 (Minimum Age and Child labor). UNCTAD member governments must recognize and allow labor to play a significant role in designing and deciding on all aspects of trade and development policy. Corporate globalization has caused a rapidly increasing trend toward the casualization of labour and marginalization of vulnerable groups of workers. Added protection and promotion of the fundamental rights of these vulnerable groups beyond the existing ILO tripartite system is urgently needed. Furthermore, there should not be discriminatory misuse of labour rights in North-South exchanges for economic advantage.

Proposals for UNCTAD

International trade and investment rules promoted by the dominant global institutions are aimed at creating a ‘level playing field’ between all economic players, irrespective of their scale and economic power. This understanding of ‘non-discrimination’ in national treatment provisions assumes that equal rules should apply to very unequal players. So far this tendency has only been resisted through ‘special and differential treatment’ provisions, which in the WTO most often do not have contractual status and rely on artificial and arbitrary time frames unrelated to need and capacity.

The civil societies call for a human rights application of ‘non-discrimination’, which is premised on the need for affirmative action by the state to protect and promote vulnerable groups and sectors, to avoid discrimination and further marginalization. In other words, these measures are not a special favour granted to developing countries and their citizens, but are fundamental components of their right to development.

UNCTAD could play a catalytic role in launching an international movement aimed at ensuring that international economic policies and rules are not allowed to supersede national regional and international measures designed to protect and promote all human rights – including the right to development and widely-held social and environmental objectives. It would therefore reassert its capacity to counter-act what are in effect ‘development-distorting’ trade and investment policies.

These aforementioned recommendations were made to the tenth session of UNCTAD. The civil societies hope that the tenth session of UNCTAD will consider these, the implemention of which will contribute to the achievement of the common goals of equity, democracy, and sustainability that are shared by civil societies, the Member governments of UNCTAD, and its secretariat.

In spite of the effort of civil societies, in the tenth session of UNCTAD, a lot of sticky issues are avoided. Bangkok Post, 19 Feb, 2000

The assembly of 146 UNCTAD member countries yesterday agreed to enhance the agency”s role in ensuring financial stability, but avoided confrontation on questions of farm subsidies, market access, and good governance. They adopted a Plan of Action for the next four years, and a political Bangkok Declaration. In the action plan, the assembly of mainly developing countries said UNCTAD should contribute to the debate on issues related to the strengthening and reform of international financial institutions, ‘including the enhancing of early warning and response capabilities for dealing with the emergence and spread of financial crises’. The plan also called on UNCTAD to contribute to the achievement of coherence in global economic policy making, though the analysis of the interdependence of trade, finance, technology, and investment, and of the impact of such interdependence on development. UNCTAD”s role in the reform of the international financial architecture had been one of the most contentious issues, with some countries emphatic that it should have no say.

Farm subsidies, market access and good governance remained sticky issues. Another sticking point, protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, previously opposed by Burma and China won approval.

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