São Paulo, 18 June 2004

The 11th Session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XI) ended with a renewed commitment on the part of large developing countries to accommodate the interests of the least developed countries by providing preferential market access, among other initiatives.

On the closing day, a meeting was held on the “Joint Integrated Trade Assistance Programme” (JITAP) for least developed countries (LDCs). It called for the reinforcement of synergies between the private sector, civil society organisations and national/regional institutions in order to achieve better human and institutional capacity building in LDCs. JITAP was launched in 1996 during the 9th Session of UNCTAD (UNCTAD IX) in Midrand, South Africa. One of the major purposes was to help poor countries assess the impact of the WTO (World Trade Organisation) agreements on their economies and to build the necessary capacity to formulate policies and programmes for tapping the opportunities of a rules-based multilateral trading system. At present, JITAP is jointly implemented by UNCTAD, WTO and the International Trade Centre and financed by several donors.

The Conference adopted three declarations: the Spirit of São Paulo, the São Paulo Consensus, and a Declaration launching the third round of GSTP (Generalised System of Trade Preferences) negotiations focusing more on enhancement of South-South trade.

The Declaration titled “The Spirit of São Paulo” recognised that “improved coherence between the international monetary, financial and trading system is fundamental for sound global economic governance.” The Member States of UNCTAD expressed their commitment to “improving the coherence between those systems in order enhance their capacities to better respond to the needs of development.” They agreed to “continue working on the creation of a positive synergies between trade and finance and on how to link these efforts to development.” It reiterated the Members’ commitment to support UNCTAD in fulfilling its mandate as the focal point within the United Nations for the integrated treatment of trade and development.

On the other hand, the “São Paulo Consensus” (a 24-page document) contains issues relating to policy analysis and necessary responses with respect to the four sub-themes of the Conference: development strategies in a globalising world; building productive capacities and international competitiveness; assuring development gains from the international trading system; and partnership for development.

In the process of adopting this ‘Consensus’ the contentious “policy space” issue emerged. Many developing countries argued for such space and flexibility to carry out national development policies. They cited examples to buttress their point that such policy space had recently been constrained by international rules and in future may become further narrowed. However, Paragraph 8 of the final text stated: “It is particularly important for developing countries, bearing in mind their development goals and objectives, that all countries take into account the need for appropriate balance between national policy space and international disciplines and commitments.”

Another significant development was a call made by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the President of Brazil, to establish a global fund to eliminate hunger through taxing arms trade and financial transactions.

At the closing session, UNCTAD’s Secretary-General, Rubens Ricupero said: “Human development is an invisible part of economic development. Although UNCTAD doesn’t have powers like many other inter-governmental and multilateral organisations, it has the power of ideas, commitment and faith.”

The issue of UNCTAD’s new leadership also came up during the Conference, as Secretary-General Ricupero will complete his second term later this year. The Civil Society Forum (CSF), held parallel to the Conference, stated in a statement: “Safeguarding and strengthening UNCTAD’s mandate to deal with the interdependent issues of trade, money, finance, technology transfer and development, in an integrated manner, is critically dependent on the quality and management of its leadership. In light of the impending changes in the leadership of UNCTAD, the CSF urges the UN Secretary-General and Member States to exercise the greatest care and transparency in the selection of UNCTAD’s new management.” As a key stakeholder concerned with UNCTAD’s future, civil society expects to be closely involved and consulted in decisions concerning the organisation’s future management.

The Conference also adopted a Note on “Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships” recognising the role of NGOs. Among others, it contains a reference to capacity building on trade issues. It also mentions the work done by CUTS in the investment field.

Prior to UNCTAD XI, CUTS had organised an Afro-Asian Civil Society Seminar in New Delhi titled “From Cancún to São Paulo: The Role of Civil Society in the International Trading System”. A document containing the proceedings and papers of this Seminar was released at São Paulo. An Afro-Asian Civil Society Statement on Trade, endorsed by several civil society organisations, was presented at São Paulo. The Statement calls on the international community to take forward the recommendations on trade and development issues, including South-South trade.

Regarding the “partnership for development” (one of the sub-themes of UNCTAD XI), the Statement urged that such ‘partnership’ should be based on facilitating:

a) the relationship between the civil society and the governments, so that they can engage constructively;

b) the process of dialogues and consultations between and among the civil society and other stakeholders; and

c) the co-management of joint programmes.