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Civil society groups call for establishment of Commission on Globalisation

Accra Mail, Ghana

Civil Society Groups Call for Establishment of Commission On Globalisation

23 April 2008

Civil society groups have called for the establishment of a new Commission on Globalisation and Development Strategies within the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

In a declaration presented at the opening plenary of the Committee of the Whole, Civil Society groups also asked that the policy space mandate of UNCTAD be expanded.

"We believe UNCTAD has a unique role, especially in these uncertain times. Its role as a support to developing countries in development issues and processes must be expanded," the declaration presented by Jane Nalunga, a member of Africa Trade Network, on behalf of the civil society groups, said.

At the same time, UNCTAD should also focus its work on topical issues affecting the world, including the food crisis; finance and development; climate change; migration; trade agreements; intellectual property and South-South cooperation.

"It must give us the development perspective and the way forward on these issues," the declaration said.

The declaration also stressed the need for UNCTAD’s technical assistance to be purely 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 independent manner, so that it can produce objective research aimed at supporting development goals of developing countries. This will also add to diversity of views among the international agencies."

On globalization, the civil society said it has led to an era of growing inequalities and great global instability. "The opposite poles of wealth and poverty reinforce each other with every new manifestation of the flaws of the system."

It pointed to the massive losses estimated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) 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 crises. The financial institutions and speculators must be regulated. So too the global financial system that promotes the free flow of capital, including speculative 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 financial crisis; what they can do about it; and how to overhaul the global financial architecture, so that finance serves the needs not of speculators but the goals of development, jobs and income, with environmental sustainability and gender equality.

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 bio-fuels.

It also singled out the World Bank and IMF conditionalities that imposed on developing countries to cut subsidies and support to small farmers as a reason that contributed to the decline in agricultural production in developing countries.

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

"The food crisis makes policy change necessary. Developing countries must be allowed to defend their food security and small farmers, so as to quickly expand food production through sustainable agriculture, and to raise tariffs to prevent import surges."

The developed countries must quickly phase out their distorting subsidies, including those distorting subsidies within the so-called Green Box subsidies. Land 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 including the EPAs. UNCTAD can play a central role in this reform and to help to find the right solutions to the food crisis.

"We believe that the erosion of policy space remains the number one issue, especially since this loss of policy space is also a threat to the ability of developing countries to deal with the finance and food crises."

On trade and development the North South FTAs, including EPAs mainly promote the North’s corporate agenda and are a grave danger for developing countries.

While admitting that some developing countries have gained from trade liberalization, the declaration maintained that a majority of developing countries have suffered 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 EPAs and FTAs be immediately rectified. As for the EPAs, the EU should stop putting pressure on ACP countries to conclude them. At the least there should be no expansion into non-goods issues like services, IPRs, investment, procurement. An alternative to EPAs should be found."

At the WTO, the Doha negotiations have so far produced very imbalanced results. Developed countries can continue their high agricultural subsidies through shifting of the boxes, because part of the so-called non trade distorting Green Box subsidies have been found in reality to be trade distorting but the proposals to improve disciplines on them are weak and inadequate.

"UNCTAD XII is an opportunity to discuss the trade and development issues, and to strengthen UNCTAD secretariat to do independent research to assess WTO and FTAs," the statement said.