Concerns Voiced at UNCTAD Conference

Geneva, Switzerland - UPF participated in UNCTAD’s second annual public symposium held May 10-11 at the UN in Geneva. UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, is an agency within the United Nations system that helps developing countries benefit from the global economy. As such, as well as providing technical assistance, it also conducts research and analysis in an attempt to help the less wealthy countries to expand their economies.

A somewhat sombre mood prevailed over this year’s conference, as exemplified in UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi’s opening comments that “since the crisis hit in 2008, some 53 million people in the developing world have fallen below the poverty line and more than 100 million additional people are going hungry. These numbers are not moving in the right direction.” He went on to say that, “Prior to the crisis, the chances of achieving the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) were deteriorating. Now, after the crisis, it will be near to impossible to achieve all of the MDGs.” The goals are centered around the target of halving extreme poverty by 2015.

He also said that the impetus appeared to be dwindling for deep and meaningful reforms to the international financial system and urged that the United Nations, rather than just the G20 group of countries, be given a lead role in devising reforms: “A truly inclusive multilateralism must be based on the G192, the number of all member States of the UN,” he said.

In this context, Anne Jellema, International Policy and Campaign Director of ActionAid International, South Africa, expressed the view that international financial markets "dictate for many countries what is and what isn't possible" and described those markets as "a global casino."

In his summing up of the conference, Mr. Debapriya Bhattacharya, UNCTAD's Special Advisor on Least Developed Countries, said that, “there was a conviction expressed at the symposium that the 'conventional' approach to development had not worked, that "business as usual" should not resume, and that major reforms should be made to the global trade and financial systems so that poorer nations and people benefit from the global economy and so that future worldwide recessions are avoided.”

Indeed, what speakers at UNCTAD's second Public Symposium for Civil Society called for most often was a larger government role in development, especially as compared to the 1980s and 1990s when neoliberal economic approaches contended that States should not interfere with market forces.

Mr. Kozul-Wright, who is Officer-in-Charge of UNCTAD's Unit for Economic Cooperation and Integration among Developing Countries, suggested that the crisis "has reminded us that governments, despite all their failings, remain the only institutions we have that can stave off catastrophic threats."

An interesting remark was made by a representative of the International Economic Relations Institute, who decried what he said was a dearth of academic research into "actors in the real economy" and into such issues as the behavior of financial elites, behavior in corporate boardrooms, and fraud. "Universities have not been studying the role played by powerful economic actors in influencing markets," he said. "Market manipulations appropriate vast amounts of money at the expense of poorer persons."

The opinion was also expressed that these sorts of injustice and inequalities can go so far as to lead to conflict both within and between countries. In the opinion of the present author, an interreligious council at the UN, proposed by UPF’s founder the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, would facilitate the implementation of these vital systemic reforms, by virtue of the greater detachment and impartiality that such a body could bring to bear on these fundamental problems, whereas nations tend to “look out for” their own interests.

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