When heads of state and government ministers from Unctad's 193 member countries met in Accra in April, it was hailed as the first major UN summit to be hosted in West Africa. Dubbed Unctad XII, the conference's agenda was to focus on the current global economy and its impact on development. This was set out by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who with Unctad's secretary-general, Supachai Panitchpakdi, Ghana's President John Kufuor and Brazil's President Luiz Lula da Silva opened proceedings at Ghana's National Conference Centre.
It is clear that Unctad is concerned about criticisms over its quadrennial summit, which include that it is a pointless and costly exercise. It has responded to such criticisms with attempts to give a platform for civil society to become better involved with the summit. With many of the world's best known NGOs attending, especially those involved in development issues, and the complementary programmes of a Civil Society Forum as well as a World Investment Forum (WIF) running in parallel to the main summit, Unctad demonstrated a clearly inclusive approach to structuring its summit.
Appropriately, given the location, a key feature of Unctad XII was the special emphasis given to Africa's trade and the development needs of African countries. Chaired by Ban Ki-moon, a special high-level meeting brought together heads of state and senior ministers including Ghana's minister of trade, industry and private sector development, Joe Baidoe-Ansah, and the African Union Commission's minister of trade and industry, Elizabeth Tankeu, to discuss ways to promote development-friendly trade and economic growth.
The key recommendation to emerge was for Africa to implement policies that will get it out of its commodity dependence syndrome, reversing the current sectoral approach to attracting foreign direct investment in favour of one where the natural resource sector stimulates wider development objectives through links with the rest of the economy.
This was echoed in large part by the private sector participants of the WIF Global Leaders' Investment Debate, where Ian Cockerill, the CEO of Gold Fields, an extractive industries company with a truly pan-African presence, and Mo Ibrahim, the founder of African mobile phone company Celtel, both made comments that broadly concurred with these sentiments.
The EPA issue
As might be expected, Minister Tankeu also spoke eloquently on the issue of the European Union's attempts to coerce African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP countries), to accept Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA). These are the notorious agreements that have many pernicious aspects including stringent rules against tariffs to protect developing countries' infant industries that would provide a "ladder to development", Tankeu argued that it was imperative for the ACP group to hold out for a better deal.
Tankeu added that the AU backs the demand for the EU to allow African states to build their local production capacities, national markets and establish thriving intra-trade links among themselves before opening up to the EU in the manner the EPA proposed, but noted that, to date, the EU "simply will not listen".
It is just these sort of trade-related issues that Unctad was specifically tasked to deal with at its inception in Geneva in 1964. In earlier decades, Unctad served to promote North-South dialogue and negotiations on issues of interest to developing countries. It also began its work on analytical research and providing policy advice on development issues.
For example, Unctad assisted in defining the 0.7% target of gross domestic income to be given as official development aid by developed countries to the world's poorest countries. This target was adopted by the UN's General Assembly in 1970, although the pledge was subsequently, and shamefully, practically ignored by the rich nations. …