Established in 1964, UNCTAD promotes the development-friendly integration of developing countries into the world economy. UNCTAD has progressively evolved into an authoritative knowledge-based institution whose work aims to help shape current policy debates and thinking on development, with a particular focus on ensuring that domestic policies and international action are mutually supportive in bringing about sustainable development.
The organization works to fulfill this mandate by carrying out three key functions:
1.It functions as a forum for intergovernmental deliberations, supported by discussions with experts and exchanges of experience, aimed at consensus building.
2.It undertakes research, policy analysis and data collection for the debates of government representatives and experts.
3.It provides technical assistance tailored to the specific requirements of developing countries, with special attention to the needs of the least developed countries and of economies in transition. When appropriate, UNCTAD cooperates with other organizations and donor countries in the delivery of technical assistance.
The Secretary-General of UNCTAD is Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi (Thailand), who took office on 1 September 2005.
Overview of the main activities
Commodity diversification and development: Promotes the diversification of production and trade structures. Helps Governments to formulate and implement diversification policies and encourages enterprises to adapt their business strategies and become more competitive in the world market.
Competition and consumer policies: Provides analysis and capacity building in competition and consumer protection laws and policies in developing countries. Publishes regular updates of a Model Law on Competition
Trade Negotiations and Commercial Diplomacy : Assists developing countries in all aspects of their trade negotiations.
Trade Analysis and Information System (TRAINS): Comprehensive computer-based information system on trade control measures that uses UNCTAD’s database. The CD-ROM version includes 119 countries.
Trade and environment: Assesses the trade and development impact of environmental requirements and relevant multilateral agreements and provides capacity-building activities to help developing countries participate in and derive benefits from international negotiations on these matters
Investment and enterprise development
International investment and technology arrangements: Helps developing countries to participate more actively in international investment rule making at the bilateral, regional and multilateral levels. These arrangements include the organization of capacity-building seminars and regional symposia and the preparation of a series of issues papers.
Investment Policy Reviews: Intended to familiarize Governments and the private sector with the investment environment and policies of a given country. Reviews have been carried out in a number of countries, including Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Peru, Uganda and Uzbekistan.
Investment guides and capacity building for the LDCs: Some of the countries involved are Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique and Uganda.
Empretec: Promotes entrepreneurship and the development of small and medium-sized enterprises. Empretec programmes have been initiated in 27 countries, assisting more than 70,000 entrepreneurs through local market-driven business support centres.
Macroeconomic policies, debt and development financing
Policy analysis and research on issues concerning global economic interdependence, the international monetary and financial system, and macroeconomic and development policy challenges.
Technical and advisory support to the G24 group of developing countries (the Intergovernmental Group of 24) in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; advisory services to developing countries for debt rescheduling negotiations under the Paris Club.
DMFAS programme: Computer-based debt management and financial analysis system specially designed to help countries manage their external debt. Started in 1982, and now installed in 62 countries.
Technology and Logistics
ASYCUDA programme: Integrated customs system that speeds up customs clearance procedures and helps Governments to reform and modernize their customs procedures and management. Installed in over 80 countries, ASYCUDA has become the internationally accepted standard for customs automation.
ACIS programme: Computerized cargo tracking system installed in 20 developing countries of Africa and Asia.
E-Tourism Initiative: Linking sustainable tourism and Information and communication technologies (ICTs) for development, UNCTAD has developed this Initiative to help developing countries' destinations to become more autonomous by taking charge of their own tourism promotion by using ICT tools.
Technology: Services the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development and administers the Science and Technology for Development Network; carries out case studies on best practices in transfer of technology; undertakes Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Reviews for interested countries, as well as capacity-building activities.
Train ForTrade programme: Builds training networks and organizes training in all areas of international trade to enable developing countries to increase their competitiveness. Currently developing distance learning programmes focusing on the LDCs.
Africa, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries & small island developing States
Africa: Provides analytical work aimed at increasing the understanding of problems faced by African countries in their development efforts, and facilitating a better integration of Africa into the world economy. Particular emphasis is placed on supporting the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
Least developed countries (LDCs): Provides analytical work and technical assistance aimed at enabling relevant States to make the best possible use of LDC status in the framework of the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010, and to better understand the policy-related issues that are specially relevant to LDCs, notably with a view to developing productive capacities and reducing poverty in these countries.
Landlocked developing countries (LLDCs): Provides analytical work and technical assistance to LLDCs in support of the implementation of the 2003 Almaty Programme of Action, which deals with the special needs of LLDCs within a new global framework for transit transport cooperation for landlocked and transit developing countries.
Small island developing States (SIDS): Provides analytical work and technical assistance to SIDS in support of the implementation of the 2005 Mauritius Strategy for the Further Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, with particular emphasis on issues of economic vulnerability and specialization.
In performing its functions, the secretariat works together with member Governments and interacts with organizations of the United Nations system and regional commissions, as well as with governmental institutions, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, including trade and industry associations, research institutes and universities worldwide.
The organization's goals are to "maximize the trade, investment and development opportunities of developing countries and assist them in their efforts to integrate into the world economy on an equitable basis." (From official website). The creation of the conference was based on concerns of developing countries over the international market, multi-national corporations, and great disparity between developed nations and developing nations.
In the 1970s and 1980s, UNCTAD was closely associated with the idea of a New International Economic Order (NIEO).
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development was offered a forum where the developing countries could discuss the problems relating to their economic development. This was set up essentially because it was felt that the then existing institution like GATT and IMF were not properly organised to handle the peculiar problems of developing countries. With more than 170 members, UNCTAD presently is the only body where developed as well as the erstwhile centrally planned countries is members.
The primary objective of the UNCTAD is to formulate policies relating to all aspects of development including trade, aid, transport, finance and technology. The Conference ordinarily meets once in four years. The first conference took place in Geneva in 1964, second in New Delhi in 1968, the third in Santiago in 1972, fourth in Nairobi in 1976, the fifth in Manila in 1979, the sixth in Belgrade in 1983, the seventh in Geneva in 1987, the eighth in Cartagena(Colombia) in 1992 and the ninth at Johannesburg (South Africa)in 1996. The Conference has its permanent secretariat in Geneva.
One of the principal achievements of UNCTAD has been to conceive and implement the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP). It was argued in UNCTAD fora that in order to promote exports of manufacturers from developing countries, it would be necessary to offer special tariff concessions to such exports. Accepting this argument, the developed countries formulated the GSP Scheme under which exports of manufacturers and semi-manufacturers and some agricultural items from the developing countries enter duty-free or at reduced rates in the developed countries. Since imports of such items from other developed countries are subject to the normal rates of duties, exports from the developing countries would be more competitive.
Currently, UNCTAD has 193 member States and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. UNCTAD has 400 staff members and an annual regular budget of approximately US$50 million and US$25 million of extrabudgetary technical assistance funds.
UNCTAD: Time to Lead, Time to Challenge the WTO
UNCTAD has been held at a very auspicious moment for the South. Two central institutions of the Northern-dominated system of economic global governance, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, are undergoing a severe crisis of legitimacy and have, at least temporarily, lost their sense of direction. The South has the opportunity to seize the initiative, frame the terms of debate on the future of global governance, and push for the creation or institutions that will truly serve its interests. UNCTAD can serve as the catalyst for this process.
The collapse of the Third WTO Ministerial in Seattle provides an opportunity for UNCTAD to reclaim a central role in setting the rules for global trade and development. But this cannot be on the basis of the old paradigm and old practices that have marked the UNCTAD approach. For example, the old assumption that underlay the Prebischian model that full integration of the developing countries into the world economy is the way to prosperity must be questioned in light of the many negative consequences of globalization which have become painfully evident, including the dangers that accompany the loss of self-reliance in agricultural and industrial production owing to the volatility of the global economy, such as the erosion of food security in developing countries where agriculture focuses on export-oriented production.
Institutional and analytical reinvigoration is essential if UNCTAD is to break out of the cage that the rich countries have fashioned for it and carve out a much more powerful role in trade and development issues. Also essential is the will and the vision to accompany this process.
What UNCTAD should be doing, in the aftermath of Seattle, is challenging the role of the WTO as the ultimate arbiter of trade and development issues. UNCTAD should instead be putting forward an arrangement where trade, development, and environment issues must formulated and interpreted by a wider body of global organizations, including UNCTAD, ILO, the implementing bodies of multilateral environmental agreements, and regional economic blocs, interacting as equals to clarify, define, and implement international economic policies.
UNCTAD, in particular, should push to become not just a forum for the discussion of policies. UNCTAD should become, as Secretary General Ricupero put it recently in Berlin, a "world parliament on globalization."But this should be a parliament with teeth, with actual legislative power and executive power in the nexus of trade, finance, development, and environment. It was under the aegis of UNCTAD that international agreements on stabilizing commodity prices and setting up a Common Fund to support countries suffering from price fluctuations for their exports were forged in the seventies. It was also negotiations carried out under the UNCTAD umbrella that led to the establishment of GSPs or preferential systems for Third World imports. This activist, decision-making role is one that UNCTAD must reclaim.
It is not surprising that both the WTO and IMF are currently mired in a severe crisis of legitimacy. Both are highly centralized, highly unaccountable, highly non-transparent global institutions that seek to subjugate, control, or harness vast swathes of global economic, social, political, and environmental processes to the needs and interests of a global minority of states, elites, and TNCs. The dynamics of such institutions clash with the burgeoning democratic aspirations of peoples, countries, and communities in both the North and the South. The centralizing thrust of these institutions clash with the efforts of communities and nations to regain control of their fate and achieve a modicum of security by deconcentrating and decentralizing economic and political power. In other words, these are Jurassic institutions in an age of participatory political and economic democracy.
UNCTAD may not have the material resources of these institutions, but it has something that the billions of dollars of the World Bank and IMF could not buy: legitimacy among developing countries. A vigorous UNCTAD that competes in the process of defining global rules for trade, finance, investment, and sustainable development is essential in a pluralistic global economic regime where global institutions, organizations, and agreements complement as well as check one another. It is in such a more fluid, less structured, more pluralistic world with multiple checks and balances that the nations and communities of the South will be able to carve out the space to develop based on their values, their rhythms, and the strategies of their choice. UNCTAD has a critical contribution to make in the emergence of such a system of global governance.
Prepared by Biju P R,Assitant Professor in Political Science,Govt Brennen College,Thalassery.