Bullying in Doha

Bullying in Doha

Date: 23 April 2012

This week sees the quadrennial conference in Doha of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the UN body responsible for championing the interests of countries in the global south vis-à-vis trade and development. UNCTAD was set up in the 1960s in response to concerns that existing bodies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) weren’t adequately set up to deal with the specific problems developing countries faced.

Since then, UNCTAD has fulfilled a valuable role, providing an alternative perspective on the global economy, and challenging the neoliberal ‘Washington Consensus’ which has dominated the policies of other multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and has led to increased inequality and economic injustice. 

The organisation has worked on a range of important issues, including aid, debt cancellation and trade policy. More recently, it has produced detailed and insightful research demonstrating how the huge increase in financial speculation in the commodity markets is driving volatility and contributing to price spikes for staple foods. And despite having much more limited resources, UNCTAD is recognised as having predicted the financial crisis when the IMF, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) failed to do so.

So you might think that these bigger organisations would be taking a back seat at this week’s conference to let UNCTAD get on with it. Unfortunately this couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that, not liking what they hear, rich countries are now trying to remove key work on finance and macroeconomic policy from UNCTAD’s mandate.

This scandal has already prompted 49 former senior UNCTAD officers to publish an appeal expressing concern over developed countries’ attempt to prevent UNCTAD from doing its basic analytical job of examining the world economy from the point of view of development. The G77 has made a similar protest. 

This attempt to silence UNCTAD is just the latest example of rich countries trying to bully others to get their own way. The World Development Movement has joined other organisations in calling for a strong role for UNCTAD in working towards sustainable and inclusive development for all. Watch this space.

Update, 25 April 2012: The Jubilee Debt Campaign has launched an urgent e-action calling for the UK government to stop silencing the UN.