Sep 3, 1986


GENEVA SEP. 1 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTH RAGHAVAN) -- The trade and development board of UNCTAD began its 33rd session Monday, with appeals for collective efforts to reach final decisions on the issues of the Agenda, organization, venue and dates of the seventh session of the Conference.

Opening speeches by the outgoing and incoming Presidents, and by the UNCTAD Secretary-General, all underlined this, placing the issue in the context of the deflationary threats, and the need for concerted measures of international cooperation, and national and international policy changes, to promote growth and development.

The board elected Amb. Saad Alfarargi of Egypt as its President, Mrs. Lina Tukan of Jordan as rapporteur, and ten Vice-Presidents, who together constitute the Bureau of the board.

Alfarargi appealed for collective efforts to take a final decision on the Agenda, organisation, venue and dates of UNCTAD-VII, noting that "The credibility of UNCTAD is at stake".

Commending the 1986 UNCTAD Trade and Development Report (TDR/6), Alfarargi said that given the "precarious world economic situation", the report provided a unique opportunity to enter into a meaningful dialogue and reach a better understanding of the reasons for the faltering global economy.

Underscoring the conclusions of a Secretariat Document before the Board that multilateral trade negotiations could achieve the goal of a strengthened and imposed trading system only if based on a consensus on its main characteristics, Alfarargi said the board discussions on this issue could make "a major contribution to the consensus-building process".

He hoped that the debate in the Board on the issues of interdependence, debt, and trade could be carried a step further from the past, and more specific and intensive consultations among all groups could lead to concrete and action-oriented common understandings, paving the way for policy decisions at a later stage on UNCTAD or other relevant fora.

Earlier, the outgoing President, Witold Jurasz of Poland said that "even in an adverse political and economic environment, UNCTAD should not passively accept the remaining areas of congruent interests but rather try and actively broaden them, and promote international economic cooperation for development".

Like Alfarargi later, Jurasz too commended the TDR/6, and its central message that deflationary forces now constitute the most pervasive threat to the world economy.

"The modern world", Jurasz said, "has become too small and too fragile for new wars, including economic wars or even economic skirmishes".

"Hence the role of multilateral economic diplomacy, including in UNCTAD, should increasingly consist not merely in preventing it from happening but, first and foremost, in generating genuine international compromise, reconstruction of confidence in international economic relations, and revitalizing development, growth and international trade, thereby strengthening peaceful relations among states".

"Progress", Jurasz said, "could not be taken for granted, and governments have to be persuaded that they have enough, common interests to negotiate".

But it could be safely stated that "retreat from multilateralism or a global unilateralism in the 1980s could be as expensive an illusion as isolationism was more than half a century ago".

He was personally convinced that there were sufficient grounds for cautious optimism "should we chose a proper direction for concerted international action in UNCTAD and elsewhere".

It appeared that consensus was within reach as far as the list of Agenda items, and the leading theme of UNCTAD-VII were concerned.

The initiation of the preparatory phase at the last board, and the understandings painstakingly reached since then in consultations on the provisional Agenda and organisation of work, should be further advanced and decisions taken at the current session of the board.

Governments attending UNCTAD-VII should resist the temptation "to seek marginalist accommodation only".

In such an accommodative strategy to produce marginal gains in non-conflictual sectors, the "purpose vs. reality" dilemma would be resolved to the obvious detriment of purpose.

Now as ever, realism was needed as a sound basis for objective judgements of what was feasible.

But as Raul Prebisch had told UNCTAD-I in 1964, "Realism is also a foresight, and an elementary sense of foresight should induce us to read the signs of times in the developing world".

The form of international economic cooperation for development should follow the content, and the "recently disputed negotiation function" should not be further eroded in UNCTAD, since this would entail the risk of turning the organisation "into an uneasy amalgam of a debating society and a collection of functional bodies".

Debate without effective action only eroded the credibility of the organisation, and it was insufficient to indulge in a course of action which "solely perpetuates the status quo".