9:03 AM Oct 2, 1995


Geneva 30 Sep (TWN) -- The new Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Mr. Rubens Ricupero, has expressed his confidence that UNCTAD would re-emerge as the forum where the development perspective would be brought to bear on the fundamental questions related to the increasingly interdependent world economy.

Addressing the annual meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Group of 77 in New York on Friday, Ricupero noted that recently the role and functions of UNCTAD had been placed into question on the basis of "some superficial notions" about its role.

In a report released early this year, the Global Governance Commission, co-chaired by Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson and former Commonwealth Secretary-General Shridath Ramphal, urged the closure of UNCTAD and UNIDO on the ground they had outlived their usefulness, and also recommended the creation of an Economic Security Council to replace the UN Economic and Social Council.

While the 26-member independent Commission's report was presented as unanimous, but with a disclaimer that "everyone of its members might not have fully embraced each and every proposal", in a subsequent statement to the press in Jakarta, Indonesian Foreign Ali Alataz, who was a member of the Commission, disassociated himself from these recommendations.

Also the Geneva-based South Centre, headed by former President of Tanzania and chairman of the South Commission, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, rejected several of the concepts and recommendations of the Governance Commission, including the abolition of UNCTAD and the creation of the UN Economic Security Council, and said any reform of the UN should result in empowerment of the UN and bringing all matters pertaining to the world economy and enable it to exert policy leadership in macro-economic and social policy issues, bringing all specialized agencies including the IMF, World Bank and the WTO under its policy direction.

Following the Carlsson-Ramphal report, the US has also suggested reform. In a series of proposals spelled out in a "non-paper" released in July, the United States says that as the new WTO becomes fully operational, "it will at some point be necessary to reconsider the function of UNCTAD" and for some understanding about the relation between UNCTAD and WTO and decisions regarding overlapping UNCTAD and WTO roles.

The report evoked strong reaction from the NAM Foreign Ministers at their meeting in Jakarta, and also from the Group of 77 and China who made known their opposition to these moves.

In a reference to these, Ricupero said the "unequivocal reaction" by the G77, China and the Non-Aligned Movement to such moves was indicative of "the importance developing countries attach to the institution." He added: "your support, particularly here at UN headquarters has been decisive in conveying a vigorous message that UNCTAD has to continue to play an important role... Your continued support to the organization, will be crucial to ensure that UNCTAD's capacity to respond to the needs of developing countries is not diminished. Developing countries should therefore remain vigilant in all fora, particularly here at UN headquarters where important decisions are yet to be made."

"UNCTAD is an institution in service of development and I am convinced that the potential contribution of UNCTAD to the cause of development can be further enhanced. Much can be done from within the institution. ... I am confident that UNCTAD will re-emerge as the forum where the development perspective will be brought to bear on the fundamental questions related to the increasingly interdependent world economy".

Referring to the role of UNCTAD in the field of trade in the light of the establishment of the WTO, an issue that cropped up in various quarters in discussions on UNCTAD. Ricupero said:

"Very briefly, the main functions of the WTO are to facilitate the implementation of the numerous Uruguay Round agreements, to administer the system for the settlement of disputes and to provide a forum for negotiations of further multilateral rules. The more precise role of the WTO will no doubt evolve as the organization becomes increasingly consolidated.

"In the broadest sense, however, there is still need for a universal forum like UNCTAD where international trade policy can be analyzed and discussed in the context of the complex relationships with inter-related issues in the areas of finance, technology, investment, services and sustainable development.

"The general question has come up of what are the limits to the inclusion in international trade disciplines of policy areas other than trade itself and, conversely, what issues are best dealt with through instruments other international trade disciplines. UNCTAD can offer a universal forum in which the question can be debated and consensus built on general principles and on specific cases."

UNCTAD could also be expected to play a role in preparing the groundwork needed for negotiation of further international trade agreements, carry out the identification and analytical exploration of the issues and policy options, as well as the building of consensus on the basic parameters of possible international agreements which would then be negotiated in the WTO.

Referring to the respective roles of UNCTAD and the WTO in the emerging system of international governance in trade, Ricupero said UNCTAD had a specific role in play in providing a development perspective to international trade debates and negotiations.

He cited the area of trade and environment as a good example of the complementary nature of the functions of UNCTAD and the WTO, and said UNCTAD's contribution in this area was well-known, particularly to the New York based delegations in the context of the work of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.

There was thus "a clearly recognized delineation of functions" between UNCTAD and WTO, and it was for governments to map out the responsibility of each institution in furthering the international trade agenda.

But "there is no monopoly in the treatment of trade issues at the multilateral level", Ricupero said and noted that besides the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, the regional banks and many other agencies had been active in trade matters and there was thus "ample room for constructive contribution of UNCTAD alongside the others." The risks of duplication about which so much was being heard lately "remain generic and in the realm of hypothetical questions, as long as concrete cases were never identified in practice," the UNCTAD head said.

Referring to Least Developed Countries (LDCs), and the importance attached by UNCTAD to the integration of these weaker countries into the mainstream of international economic activity, Ricupero said that the ongoing High Level Mid-Term Global Review of the 1990 Programme of Action for LDCs would provide sufficient impetus to ensure not only implementation in full of the Programme of Action for LDCs, but would help the LDCs to meet the new challenges engendered by the liberalization and globalization of the world economy.

Earlier, referring to the forthcoming UNCTAD-IX, to be held in South Africa, Ricupero noted that the Conference would be dealing with one of the most important aspects of development, the impact of globalization and liberalization on development.

There were tremendous opportunities to be gained from these processes for development and for integrating developing countries further in the international trading and economic system. At the same time there were also risks involved, paramount among them being "the further marginalization of weaker economies which might be lagging behind and suffering from the instability in the international financial system."

While completion of the Uruguay Round was a major step by the international community to expand the rule-based international trading system, "the challenge for development is to assist developing countries to benefit fully from the trading opportunities arising from the agreements as well as minimizing its eventual risks."