The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development renewed its mandate at its annual summit, aiming to more closely align international trade policies and standards with the new global development agenda. But reaching consensus was not easy.
Negotiations were marked by intense discussions and a debate persists about whether UNCTAD is giving enough of a voice to the global south on issues of trade and development.
Many civil society groups contend that UNCTAD, with its development-centric mission, can go further still to embed the interests of developing countries on matters of trade and finance into international principles and agreements.
Prioritizing that development focus would go a long way to ensuring that aid indeed goes hand-in-hand with trade. But instead, groups argue, the UNCTAD has largely left it up to richer, industrialized countries to set those global standards.The issue of an inclusive development agenda was the primary focus of civil society organizations leading up to the 14th UNCTAD summit in Nairobi, Kenya, where more than 5,000 delegates from 149 U.N. member states convened for the quadrennial UNCTAD meeting to debate high-level issues of trade and development.
UNCTAD’s role in promoting global development stands out among other large international organizations. While institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization work to advance economic development, growth and stability, UNCTAD is primarily rooted in people-centered development with a specific purpose to improve livelihoods and well-being in the “global south.” The agency promotes ways that governments can use trade to improve the lives of the poor and its mission has expanded over time to support finance, investment and technology.
However, civil society organizations have grown increasingly concerned that UNCTAD’s development mandate has taken a back seat to advancing the commercial interests of industrialized countries, promoted through predominantly Western-led institutions.
Ahead of the summit a group of 331 civil society organizations sent a letter to UNCTAD member governments, urging the agency to recenter its focus on development and not tie its agenda too closely to the missions of other institutions. The more that UNCTAD moves toward seeing developing countries mainly as engines for global trade agreements, the more the U.N. body risks redundancy and irrelevancy, the groups argued.
Civil society organizations placed high hopes that the Nairobi summit would reverse that trend. The five-day meeting was the first UNCTAD summit since the Sustainable Development Goals were approved and offered the agency a fresh chance to integrate its work on finance and trade with the global goals.
“If we look at the challenge of fulfilling the SDGs, we need a drastic change of business,” said Tove Maria Ryding of Eurodad, a Brussels-based network of civil society organizations that focuses on aid effectiveness.
Source: Naki B. Mendoza/Devex.com