The twelfth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which was held in Accra, Ghana from 20-25 April 2008, brought together some Heads of States and Governments, Chief executives of the United Nations, UN specialised agencies and other representatives in Geneva. The general theme of the deliberations was: “Globalization for development: opportunities and challenges”. Given the waves of uncertainty surrounding the world economy, this conference was a timely forum to exchange views on recent developments in the world economy deriving from the globalization process and to agree on appropriate policy responses that the international community should implement for a fairer distribution of the costs and benefits of globalization. Furthermore, Africa being the venue of the twelfth Conference, it was important for participants to reflect on the specific situation of the world poorest continent where it is assumed that the main Millennium Development goal of halving poverty by 2015 will not be achieved.
The main trends emerging from recent developments in globalization according to UNCTAD Secretary General, are the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US that affects the general availability of credit; rising energy and food prices that results in inflationary tendencies; and the rise of some developing countries as key drivers of international trade and investment flows.1 These trends, compounded by climate change, have the potential to decelerate global and developing countries’ growth, undermine gains from poverty reduction efforts, and pose risks to the poor, as well as the social fabric in many countries. To address the negative aspects of the challenges of globalization, UNCTAD members adopted the Accra Accord on 25 April 2008 during the closing plenary.
The Accra Accord comprises policy analysis, policy responses and action required from UNCTAD under each of the four sub-themes deriving from the main theme of the deliberations:
-Enhancing coherence at all levels for sustainable economic development and poverty reduction in global policymaking, including the contribution of regional approaches;
-Key trade and development issues and the new realities in the geography of the world economy;
-Enhancing the enabling environment at all levels to strengthen productive capacity, trade and investment: mobilizing resources and harnessing knowledge for development; and,
- Strengthening UNCTAD: enhancing its development role, impact and institutional effectiveness.
While from the “Washington consensus”, there was a growing de-legimitization of the State as the essential actor in the formulation and implementation of trade and development strategies, its central role was progressively restored in the “ Sao Paulo Consensus” adopted during UNCTAD XI in June 2004. This process culminated during UNCTAD XII deliberations with the recognition of the concept of an enabling State to promote development. In that regard, paragraph 115 of the Accra Accord states: “Developing countries should pursue development strategies that are compatible with their specific conditions within the framework of an enabling State, which is a State that deploys its administrative and political means for the task of economic development, efficiently focusing human and financial resources. Such a State should also provide for the positive interaction between the public and private sectors”.
Regarding the situation of commodities, this used to be the cornerstone of UNCTAD’s work over decades, the Accra Accord (see paragraphs 50 and 51) calls for appropriate policy responses at the national, regional and international levels. “…While the current commodity boom has improved the situation of primary commodities in world trade and revived the potential role of commodity trade in contributing to sustained economic growth and poverty reduction in the globalized economy, key realities of the commodity economy remain, including price volatility in the sector, and its impact on incomes in real terms, limited development gains from the production and trade of primary commodities for many developing countries, especially LDCs, and continued difficulties in diversification”. The relevant policy responses are reflected in paragraphs 91, 92 and 93 of the Accra.
Although UNCTAD XI clearly called for the establishment of a task force on commodities to explore solutions to the challenges posed by commodities, this task force had never been set up. The Accra Accord (paragraph 183) urges the United Nations Secretary General to transform the existing Commodities Branch into an autonomous Unit reporting directly to the Secretary General of UNCTAD. That Unit should contribute more effectively to developing countries’ efforts to formulate strategies and policies to respond to the challenges and opportunities of commodity markets.
The Accra Accord also strengthens the role that UNCTAD could play in addressing various other global challenges like migration, climate change, energy, and financial turbulence from the perspective of developing countries concerns. In that regard, while developed countries were reluctant to provide a specific mandate to UNCTAD on migration, the Accra accord underscores that the international community has an important role to play in maximising the benefits derived by individuals from remittances sent by migrants (par 143). “Without prejudice to the work undertaken in other forums and in cooperation with other organizations, UNCTAD, within its mandate, should continue to analyze the potential of migrants’ remittances to contribute to development. It should focus on ways to expand the access of migrants to financial services, maximise benefits derived from such remittances and maximize the cost through appropriate policies, while respecting their character as private funds” (par 170).
Regarding climate change, the Accra Accord urges UNCTAD to consider it in its ongoing work of assisting developing countries with trade-and investment-related issues in development strategies (par 100). The same approach should guide UNCTAD’s work on energy- related issues. In order to enhance the capacity of developing countries to attract foreign direct investment, the Accra Accord underlines that UNCTAD’s work on investment should continue to assist all developing countries, in particular LDCs and countries with special needs, in designing and implementing active policies to boost productive capacities and international competitiveness.
An important area where UNCTAD technical assistance to developing countries in reaping benefits from the globalization process is electronic Tourism. In that regard, the UNCTAD e-Tourism initiative, launched at UNCTAD XI, should continue to be implemented (Paragraph 163).
Emphasis was also placed on the opportunities that the expansion of south-south trade and cooperation could generate for developing countries. South-South merchandise trade has more than tripled in just over a decade, from 577 billion dollars to over 2 trillions in 2006. The increasing role played by the South is equally well manifested in world investment flows. The South is not only a recipient of significant foreign direct investment flows, but also increasingly the source of such flows.2 The Accra Accord calls for a full exploitation of new trade, investment and economic cooperation among developing countries and this tendency should be encouraged and benefits extended to all regions (par 52). However, this should be viewed as a complement and not a substitute to North-South trade and economic cooperation for development. It should also be signalled that the Global System of Trade Preferences among Developing countries (GSTP) as relaunched at Sao Paulo in 2004 was given another important boost at Accra during a dedicated ministerial meeting.
Should the international community join hands to implement the Accra Accord, globalisation will therefore work for its vulnerable members.
Geneva, 30 May 2008
1 See Article from Dr Supachai Supachai “The importance of UNCTAD” published by “FIRST” special edition for UNCTAD XII, April 2008, pages 4 -5
2 See UNCTAD study: “ Emergence of a new South and South-South trade as a vehicle for regional and interregional integration for development”, TD/425, 11 February 2008.