On 26 April, after tenuous negotiations and strong civil society engagement, the Thirteenth Ministerial Meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XIII) came to a close in Doha, Qatar with the adoption of the “Doha Mandate” and the “Doha Manar.”
The adopted mandate and political declaration reconfirm UNCTAD’s important role in promoting development-centred globalization and inclusive and sustainable growth and development. But more importantly, the Doha Mandate confirms in paragraph 17d that UNCTAD can “continue, as a contribution to the work of the UN, research and analysis on the prospects of, and impact on, developing countries in matters of trade and development, in light of global economic and financial crisis” – an outcome welcomed by developing countries and civil society at large. It also reaffirms the Accra Accord (outcome of UNCTAD XII for years ago), which means that UNCTAD can continue working on key issues of interdependence, such as finance, technology, investment and sustainable development, including industrial policy, commodities, food security, and gender issues; policy coherence; and macroeconomic policies. Moreover, the Mandate affirms that UNCTAD should continue monitoring and assessing the evolution of the international trading system and its trends from a development perspective; contribute to global efforts in the transition towards a green economy; and continue to support the specific needs of least developed countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDS), middle-income countries and countries in transition. For example, it should provide countries with capacity-building and technical assistance before, during and in the follow-up of the accession process to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The Doha Mandate and Manar are seen by many as a victory for developing countries, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India China, South-Africa), and civil society as it was through their negotiation skills, advocacy and lobbying efforts that such a result was obtained. As noted above, the negotiation process was not an easy one, and there were many roadblocks to overcome. In fact, for a while it seemed very unlikely that consensus was going to be reached at all.
The most contentious issues were related to the scope and reach of UNCTAD’s work which developed countries tried to water down. In the final statement of civil society on the outcome of UNCTAD XIII, delivered on the last day of the Conference by Nathan Irumba of the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) and former Ambassador of Uganda to the United Nations, civil society criticizes the “outrageous attempts” by developed countries to change the policy basis and mandate of UNCTAD’s work on the aforementioned key issues. Especially language mandating UNCTAD to work on the root causes of the global and financial crisis was opposed by developed countries, “whose deregulated financial markets resulted in the crises.”
According to Jayati Gosh, it is not about a north-south divide, but about northern governments trying to silence a voice that is in the interest of their people, but not of the powerful interests they serve. In the Development Matters Blog of the guardian.co.uk, she writes “As it happens, the content and results of the research produced by UNCTAD are very much in the interests not just of developing countries per se, but of ordinary citizens all over the world, the 99% of popular imagination. The rearguard action fought by some negotiators to control and limit UNCTAD’s work was more about trying to create a single homogenous approach to economic analysis and policy to be accepted globally, even if that approach is increasingly being exposed as misleading and downright wrong.”
• Closing Plenary: UNCTAD XIII adopts two outcome documents at conclusion of Thirteenth Ministerial Meeting, UNCTAD press release, 26 April 2012;
• Unctad is astute and progressive – so why don’t developed countries like it? by Jayati Gosh, 30 April 2012, the guardian.co.uk;
• Victory at UNCTAD XIII, by Deborah James, 29 April 2012, The Huffington Post;
• Draw at Doha, by Vijay Prashad, 1 May 2012, Asia Times Online;
• UNCTAD XIII: Civil Society Groups Call for a Paradigm Shift to address Multiple Crises with a strengthened UNCTAD at the Forefront