Mar 20, 1985

UNITED NATIONS: UNCTAD HAS CONTINUING RELEVANCE AS INSTRUMENT OF CHANGE.

GENEVA MARCH 18 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) Through its ideas, and analytical and conceptual contributions, the UN conference on Trade and Development could contribute to create a new basis for the resumption of the north-south dialogue and multilateral economic cooperation, Gamani Corea, Former Secretary-General of UNCTAD declared Monday.

Corea, who laid down his office on December 31, 1984, was addressing by invitation the Trade and Development Board of UNCTAD, at the opening of its 30th session.

Looking back at his experience of the last 10-11 years, Corea underlined that from inception, UNCTAD had been an instrument and agent of a historical process in which many new countries had emerged on the international political scene and wished to expand their participation in international economic activities and negotiations.

Unlike other UN agencies or organisations, UNCTAD was not involved in disbursing vast sums of money or primarily involved in providing technical assistance, but had been involved in the world of ideas, issues and thought, not in an academic sense but in the interaction of these ideas with the activities, negotiations and decisions of governments.

With the changes in the international economy - in the international monetary and finance fields, and in relative price relations, including in the area of energy pricing - the north-south dialogue had received a certain prominence and focus with the 6th and 7th special sessions of the UN General Assembly.

Against this background, in the first phase of his tenure, the north-south dialogue gained a momentum, and UNCTAD was able to seize the opportunity and come up with some initiatives and ideas in the area of world commodity trade, including the concept of an integrated programme and a central fund for commodities, and also in a number of other areas including shipping, restrictive business practices (RBP) and technology.

After Nairobi, there was a period of intense negotiating activities, resulting in some successful negotiations too.

But there soon emerged the subsequence phase in which the difficulties facing the international community cast its shadow over the negotiating process and the momentum for such negotiations.

Even at Manila UNCTAD (1979), there was "a certain degree of fatigue with the negotiating process and a disinclination to launch new negotiations".

Despite this some major initiatives were undertaken at Manila, as in regard to the problems of the least developed countries and economic cooperation among developing countries.

By the time of the preparations for UNCTAD-VI at Belgrade in 1983, the global economic crisis became the dominant issue of concern of the entire international community.

This prompted a shift of focus by UNCTAD from long-term issues of structural change to the more immediate issues of recovery and reactivation of growth and development.

In looking back on these events, Corea said there were several lessons and conclusions to be drawn.

When the global climate was favourable, specific negotiations made progress, and when the climate worsened, this created difficulties for the negotiating process.

"It is important to be aware of this because sometimes negotiating successes or failures are credited or blamed on organisations and procedures, without awareness of the vital role that the context and general setting plays for success or failure", Corea said.

Secondly looking back Corea was impressed by the capacity of the negotiating process, and of UNCTAD' s capacity to respond to it.

Despite the complexities and difficulties of the multilateral process, UNCTAD had shown its capacity to organise complex negotiations, and bring them to a successful conclusion.

Efforts at improving the mechanisms and procedures should be undertaken, in the confidence that basically the mechanisms could respond to the challenges.

Thirdly, in all these efforts, the intellectual contribution of the secretariat, in providing a conceptual basis for the negotiations, had been very important.

While UNCTAD had always been involved with the issues of trade, money and finance, technology, shipping, etc., over this period the secretariat had responded to these issues by reflecting the changes taking place in the world.

Fourthly, success or otherwise in the negotiating process, depended on the extent to which groups of countries organised themselves to express their views and, put forward proposals in a coherent and well-prepared manner.

This depended not merely on the technical preparations but also on the extent of political commitment which member governments brought to the negotiating process.

Looking to the future, Corea was confident that the "historic mission of UNCTAD, as an instrument and agent of the process of change will continue to be relevant in the years ahead".

This historical process was connected with the changes taking place in the world economic scene, changes in the economic structures of its component parts, and growing momentum in vast parts of the world to transform their economies and participate in the process of economic growth and reduce the gaps and divisions among the countries.

 

"That historic process will and has to go on, and UNCTAD has to retain its close and intimate association with that process", Corea said.

But the longer-term processes of historical change were retarded or accelerated by the short-term setting.

In the period ahead, there were many factors, which could affect the multilateral processes of negotiations.

At present there was a continuation of the development crisis, manifested in a dramatic form in the famine in Africa, and the problems of indebtedness and adjustment in many parts of the third world.

But there were other less visible and less dramatic aspects of the crisis, which was affecting the third world and would have its repercussions on the rest of the world.

Hence there was still an urgent need for the world community to respond to these economic difficulties and find ways to reactivate the process of development in a meaningful way.

But even the prospects for the medium-term could not be taken for granted, and in the long-term, the prospects of slow growth in the industrial countries had its implications for the world economy and for the countries of the third world.

It was in this scenario that UNCTAD as an organisation, and its secretariat, must play their role in the realm of ideas and in negotiations.

In the realm of ideas, UNCTAD should continue its contribution to understanding changes taking place and the problems emerging in the context of interdependence between issues, processes and economies in the world, and help provide an understanding of the issues.

"It is perhaps through this major challenge in the world of ideas, and through its analytical and conceptual contributions, that UNCTAD can contribute to create a new basis for resumption of the dialogue and multilateral economic cooperation, and cooperation between the industrial and developing countries".

When UNCTAD was created it was on the basis of the need for the third world to share in the ongoing process of world growth and derive the benefits of that growth.

"Today we have a different scenario. The main problem in the period ahead is not so much how to share in a process of growth, but how to launch and ensure that the process continues, and how to bring growth and dynamism into the world economy".

"I believe that one of the contributions that has to be made conceptually now is, not merely to bring about greater understanding of the need to introduce growth and dynamism into the world economy, but the contribution which the development process in the countries of the third world can make to this growth and dynamism".

This new element could be part of the new foundation for resumption of the dialogue in the future.

It was also necessary for the international political climate to improve to encourage the search for cooperation among governments.

"There was a link between political instability and tension in the world and the economic difficulties that countries were experiencing, if for no other reason because of the economic implications of the use of resources for arms build-up".

"The north-south dimensions of problems, in addition to the east-west dimensions, is of crucial importance to the unfolding processes of the future", Corea underlined.

Many of the global systems of ecology, energy, food and population, would all be affected and influenced by developments and changes taking place in these areas in the third world, if for no other reason, because of their numbers.

If these systems are damaged in the countries of the third world, they will have their unfavourable effects on the global system. This kind of interdependence and relationships between groups of countries must be faced for the future.

"This is why I have stressed in the past the importance of the concept of a new consensus on development and growth, a new consensus in which the whole approach to the adaptation of international mechanisms and systems of money and finance and trade have to be addressed".

It was not only in the realm of ideas that UNCTAD retained its relevance in the period.

In the period ahead, UNCTAD must pre are itself to play its part in such processes of intergovernmental negotiations and activities'.

Streamlining UNCTAD, and improving its efficiency and negotiating mechanisms was important.

But equally, if not more important to all groups of countries, was the political commitment of governments to the process of negotiations.

The intergovernmental activities and negotiations of the future, Corea underlined, would be increasingly complex and technical, and governments would have to enhance their capabilities in all technical dimensions in multilateral forums.

This was a particular challenge for the group of 77, since negotiations in UNCTAD were not unrelated to the strength and effectiveness of the group.

In the future the group would have to pay attention to the way in which its negotiating capabilities could be enhanced, by strengthening the preparatory processes and evolving mechanisms for it, and by leading coutnries in the group playing an active part in the negotiating process.

The secretariat too would have to play an active role, and Corea hoped that governments would encourage the secretariat in its intellectual activities and in ensuring its independence and flexibility.

At some date in the future, there could be institutional evolutions in the multilateral trading field, leading to the emergence of a new organisation like the international trade organisation.

While this may happen in the future, it was difficult to envisage it at the moment.

It was for that reason that he believed that UNCTAD as a body would have to continue to play its role, and adapt itself for that role.

"I have faith that UNCTAD, with the wide mandate that has characterised it from its creation, and its capacity to deal with interdependence of issues, with its universal character representing all groups of countries in the world, and with its independent secretariat, must continue to grow in importance and of increasing relevance in the family of UN institutions".