UN Conference on Trade and Development Launches in Doha

I am in Doha this week for the UN Conference on Trade and Development. Disclosure: UNCTAD’s PR firm covered airfare and lodging to allow me to participate in this conference. 

Doha, Qatar –  UNCTAD, the UN Conference on Trade and Development officially opens its 13th meeting in Doha on April 21st with an opening plenary. In advance of that opening, the conference held a press conference today with the Secretary General of UNCTAD and the President of the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly.

Secretary General Panitchpakdi presented an impassioned defense of UNCTAD and its mandate. He spoke of the need for global cooperation, and UNCTAD’s role in speaking for the poorest countries. Speaking about globalization, he said “This is a race that should not have winners and losers. This is a race that everyone should win. But everyone cannot win. This is about us being a voice for the people, and nations, that do not win.” He went on to call for more policy space for developing countries to exert government control over their economies. Specifically, Paitchpakdi mentioned the need to nationalize industries.

The Secretary-General also presented four lessons that the global economy must learn from the financial crises of the last few years. 1) “We need to look at regulating markets. The market doesn’t always get development right,” 2) “Look at the role of the state. Governments can’t always rely on taxes when the financial system goes to excess,” 3) “Finance should not only enrich finance-related entities,” and 4) “We need collective efforts to tackle global finance, and we’re not seeing them.”

Panitchpakdi described UNCTAD as an essential forum for economic thought and a body for cooperation that would not otherwise occur. He stated that financial change can’t occur in a single country alone; there are spillover effects. Finally, he called for major changes to financial regulatory systems, “We don’t need to reform financial architecture, we need to invent it.”

Overall, this speech represented many of the themes UNCTAD is best known for. It was an attack on the Washington consensus and a call for a new approach to global finance. Without explicitly mentioned it, the speech also rebutted the efforts of wealthy countries to reduce UNCTAD’s mandate and reserve international financial issues for the World Bank and the IMF.