Info Service on Finance and Development (Apr12/04)
12 April 2012
Third World Network
Letter by former senior UNCTAD staff on North-South tensions ahead
of UNCTAD XIII conference
Centre on 11 April distributed a letter published by former senior UNCTAD
staff members, including Secretary-General Rubens Ricupero, Deputy Secretary-Generals
and Directors, regarding the pressure placed on UNCTAD and the G-77
by major developed countries in the preparations for UNCTAD XIII.
was released in a press conference held on 11 April and presented to
Ambassador Anthony Mothae Maruping, President of the Trade and Development
is reproduced below.
by former staff members of UNCTAD
Geneva, 11 April 2012
Silencing the message or the messenger .... or both?
Since its establishment almost 50 years ago at the instigation of developing
countries UNCTAD has always been a thorn in the flesh of economic orthodoxy.
Its analyses of global macro-economic issues from a development perspective
have regularly provided an alternative view to that offered by the World
Bank and the IMF controlled by the west.
Now efforts are afoot to silence that voice. It might be understandable
if this analysis was being eliminated because it duplicated the work
and views of other international organizations, but the opposite is
the case - a few countries want to suppress any dissent with the prevailing
No multilateral institution is perfect, but UNCTAD’s track-record of
analysis and warnings on global trends and problems certainly stands
up to those of other organisations. As otherwise unfavourable commentators
have occasionally admitted, UNCTAD was ahead of the curve in its warnings
of how global finance was trumping the real economy, both nationally
It forecast the Mexican tequila crisis of 1994/5. It warned of the East
Asian crisis of 1997 and the Argentinian crisis of 2001. It has consistently
sounded the alarm of the dangers of excessive deregulation of financial
It has stressed the perils of rapid, non- reciprocal trade liberalization
by developing countries. UNCTAD economists have not had to suffer the
psychology of denial so prevalent in other organisations.
So why is the UNCTAD message so unwelcome?
The fact that UNCTAD has no formal responsibility for the global management
of the international economy and none of its own funds to dispense means
that its analysis is free of vested interests. No organisation correctly
foresaw the current crisis, and no organisation has a magic wand to
deal with present difficulties.
But it is unquestionable that the crisis originated in and is widespread
among the countries that now wish to stifle debate about global economic
policies, despite their own manifest failings in this area.
Because of the crisis, we do now have a better explanation of the inter-relationships
between the real economy and the world of finance. Those explanations
are now a good deal closer to what UNCTAD has been saying for nigh on
three decades about the dangers of finance-driven globalization.
And it is precisely in its analysis of interdependence that UNCTAD brings
added value to an understanding of how the functioning of the global
economy impacts on the majority of the world’s population who live in
developing countries. Given the current pressure on the organisation
and its secretariat, that contribution could now be gone for good.
Why now? UNCTAD is about to have its next quadrennial conference (Doha,
21-26 April). UNCTAD conferences are a shadow of their past, being now
simply a time to agree on secretariat work programme priorities for
the next four years. But that is precisely what is at stake.
Developing countries in Geneva, again, are struggling to resist the
strong pressure piled on them by OECD countries and to defend the organisation
to which they had been “umbilically” tied. They are not fully succeeding,
in spite of the BRICS pledge of support manifested at its recent summit.
So the developed countries in Geneva have seized the occasion to stifle
UNCTAD’s capacity to think outside the box. This is neither a cost-saving
measure nor an attempt to “eliminate duplication” as some would claim.
The budget for UNCTAD’s research work is peanuts and disparate views
on economic policy are needed today more than ever as the world clamours
for new economic thinking as a sustainable way out of the current crisis.
No, it is rather – if you cannot kill the message, at least kill the
All of the undersigned have worked as senior officials for UNCTAD at
one time or another. Individually, we may not necessarily have agreed
with what UNCTAD was saying on specific issues. We have no vested interest
in this matter except that we all fervently believe in the value of
maintaining an independent research capability that serves to focus
inter- governmental debates on how the workings of the global economy
affect developing countries.
At time when pluralism is finally being meaningfully discussed in the
election of the President of the World Bank, it is ironic that OECD
countries are endeavouring to stifle freedom of speech within another
If those who were proud to work for UNCTAD do not speak out now, who
List of signatories*
Roger C. Lawrence
Jack I. Stone
Michael Zammit Cutajar
Gloria V. Koch
Giovanni Andrea Cornia
letter in no way engages any responsibility on the part of any organisation
to which any of the signatories are currently affiliated.
John Burley, Divonne-les-Bains, France, +33 (0)4 50 20 20 91
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