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UNCTAD told to focus on topical issues

Civil Society groups on Mond ay told the UN Conference on T rade and Development (UNCTAD) to focus on topical issues affecting the world.

These include the food crisis; finance and development; climate change; migratio n; trade agreements; intellectual property and South-South cooperation.

“It must give us the development perspective and the way forward on these issues ,” they said.

They also called for the establishment of a new Commission on Globalisation and Development Strategies within UNCTAD.

In a declaration presented at the opening plenary, the Committee of the Whole, C ivil Society groups also asked that the policy space mandate of UNCTAD be expand e d.

“We believe UNCTAD has a unique role, especially in these uncertain times. Its r ole as a support to developing countries in development issues and processes mus t be expanded,” the declaration presented by Jane Nalunga, a member of Africa Tra d e Network, on behalf of the civil society groups, said.

The declaration also stressed the need for UNCTAD’s technical assistance to be p urely driven by the needs of recipients, including civil society, and not donors .

“It should for instance not be limited to implementing World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, but also creatively explore alternatives in a fast changing world.

“The UNCTAD Secretariat must be allowed to continue its research in an independe nt manner, so that it can produce objective research aimed at supporting develop m ent goals of developing countries. This will also add to diversity of views amon g the international agencies.”

On globalization, the civil society said globalisation had led to an era of grow ing inequalities and great global instability.

“The opposite poles of wealth and poverty reinforce each other with every new ma nifestation of the flaws of the system.”

It pointed to the massive losses estimated by the International Monetary Fund (I MF) at almost US$1,000 billion arising from the global financial and food crisis .

“We want the governments and the UNCTAD XII to take action now on these two cris es. The financial institutions and speculators must be regulated. So too the glo b al financial system that promotes the free flow of capital, including speculativ e funds and activities.”

The declaration lauded UNCTAD Secretariat for its great work on finance and said if its advice had been followed there might not have been such a crisis today.

UNCTAD XII must encourage it to expand its finance work and the Secretariat must study how developing countries would be affected by the fallout of the financia l crisis; what they can do about it; and how to overhaul the global financial arc h itecture, so that finance serves the needs not of speculators but the goals of d e velopment, jobs and income, with environmental sustainability and gender equalit y .

While attributing the food crisis mainly to supply not meeting increased demand, the declaration also asked for a reverse of the shift from producing food to bi o -fuels.

It also singled out the World Bank and IMF conditionalities that asks developing countries to cut subsidies and support to small farmers as a reason that contri b uted to the decline in agricultural production in developing countries.

Ironically, at the same time the high agricultural subsidies continue in rich co untries. The local farmers have livelihood problems because the surge of cheap a n d subsidized imports had overwhelmed them.

“The food crisis makes policy change necessary. Developing countries must be all owed to defend their food security and small farmers, so as to quickly expand fo o d production through sustainable agriculture, and to raise tariffs to prevent im p ort surges.”

They said developed countries must quickly phase out their distorting subsidies, including those distorting subsidies within the so-called Green Box subsidies. L and for bio-fuels should be turned back to farming for food.

There must be changes to policies at the World Bank, IMF, WTO and the FTAs inclu ding the EPAs.

UNCTAD can play a central role in this reform and to help to find the right solu tions to the food crisis.

“We believe that the erosion of policy space remains the number one issue, espec ially since this loss of policy space is also a threat to the ability of develop i ng countries to deal with the finance and food crises.”

While admitting that some developing countries have gained from trade liberaliza tion, the declaration maintained that a majority of developing countries have su f fered from premature import liberalization before they were able to compete.

Their local industries and agriculture were stifled by cheap imports, with loss of farm livelihoods and industrial jobs.

“We urge that the wrong policies of the World Bank and IMF and recently of the E PAs and FTAs be immediately rectified.

“As for the EPAs, the EU should stop putting pressure on ACP countries to conclu de them. At the least there should be no expansion into non-goods issues like se r vices, IPRs, investment, procurement. An alternative to EPAs should be found.”

They noted that at the WTO, the Doha negotiations have so far produced very imba lanced results.

“UNCTAD XII is an opportunity to discuss the trade and development issues, and t o strengthen UNCTAD secretariat to do independent research to assess WTO and FTA s ,” the statement said.

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