Jan 9, 1985


GENEVA, JANUARY 7 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) – After nearly nine-months of internal consultations, the OECD Group of countries have now put forward some proposals for procedural changes and reforms in the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

The OECD move is in pursuance of the U.S. initiatives at the north-south high level Committee of the OECD in Paris, where in February 1984 the U.S. launched a major attack on the functioning of the UNCTAD and its secretariat.

Following this, the OECD Group in Geneva had set up a "group of reflexion" at the level of deputies, chaired by Canada, to look into UNCTAD procedural issues and how these could be improved.

As a result of these consultations, the OECD Group formulated some ideas which were put forward by Amb. Hans Ewerlof of Sweden, the current spokesman of the OECD Group, at the monthly informal consultations of the UNCTAD Secretary-General on December 18.

Ewerlof presented the views orally, but a copy of his statement was given to other groups, and is now informally available here.

Though Ewerlof in presenting these proposals sought to engage others in a discussion, the Group of 77, Socialists and China reportedly did not react. The Socialists and China said they would need time to reflect on the suggestions, while the Group of 77 said it had no commented to make at this stage.

Ewerlof reportedly said that the suggestions were the outcome of a "brainstorming exercise" by members of the group to "improve the functioning" of UNCTAD, to enhance its procedure and thereby enable it "to tackle substantive issues in a more efficient way".

Third World diplomats later said privately that while some of the OECD suggestions were not controversial, others were likely to weaken the independence and initiative of the secretariat, and reduce UNCTAD into a glorified intergovernmental institution for holding seminars.

The OECD Group, some of the Third World diplomats said, had picked up some procedural and organisational aspects of the functioning of UNCTAD, glossing over the fact that the raison d’être of the stalemate and impasse so often witnessed was not so much an outcome of procedural and/or organisational shortcomings as due to the "basically intransigent attitude" of some of the OECD member-states.

According to Third World diplomats, the thrust of U.S. efforts was largely to weaken UNCTAD’s role as a major economic negotiating forum, and to reduce the efficacy and independence of its secretariat.

Though in the beginning, the other OECD countries professed to distance themselves from the U.S. position, arguing that progress on the substance of the north-south dialogue was an important as issues of procedure, the ideas now presented by Ewerlof deal with "procedures" and ignore the issues of substance.

Also, Third World diplomats say, the OECD procedural reforms in effect embrace the core of the U.S. ideas, but avoiding its polemics.

Ewerlof’s presentation suggested that the President of the Trade and Development Board (who is elected for every session, and under a system of rotation for each regional group to occupy that post in turn), should be elected at the end of one session for the next session, and for enabling him to play a more active role in the interregnum in the preparation of the Board sessions.

Though this has not been clearly spelt out, the apparent thrust is to enable the Board President to have say in the formulation of issues and perhaps even of the documentation for the Board.

This would clearly impinge on the role of the secretariat spelt out in article 100 of the UN charter.

Third World diplomats also view as a suggestion in a similar vein, the OECD idea of a "Technical Management Review Body", to provide technical review of work programmes and greater transparency on the planning, budget and evaluation cycle.

Though projected as an effort to promote "transparency" in the secretariat, the move would clearly impinge on the independence and objectivity of the secretariat, Third World diplomats said.

Another suggestion of the OECD Group, Third World diplomats say would in effect result in the application of a "sunset rule", sought by the U.S., in a modified way.

In its paper to the OECD, the U.S. had said that long-standing programmes and mandates of the UNCTAD secretariat and its bodies, unless renewed by subsequent conferences, should be allowed to end.

This was a U.S. attempt to see the end of various mandates to UNCTAD for international economic restructuring, which the U.S. now does not favour even though it was a party to such consensus decisions earlier.

While the U.S. does not command the necessary support to end such programmes and mandates, it sought to achieve this purpose through the "sunset rule", under which it could block the renewal of such mandates by denying consensus.

The Ewerlof proposals now suggest that no item or issue should appear on the agenda of two consecutive sessions of the Board and that items on which no agreement proves possible should not be raised again for at least 12 months.

Given the complexities of the north-south dialogue, and the consensus rule under which UNCTAD operates in practice, this would mean that any issue on which agreement is blocked by the OECD Group – and often this is due to the intransigent attitude of one or two among them – would cease to be "issues" for a year, and could easily be phased out of negotiations by lack of consensus in putting them on the agenda again.