UN trade chief urges actions to reap development gains from increased income

Marking the release of new trade surveys and the opening of an international trade conference, the new director of the United Nations trade agency has urged action in a range of areas to help developing countries make permanent gains from rising commodity prices and the increase of international commerce. “I would like to see more private-sector involvement in our projects on the ground,” Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said in London at the weekend as he marked the release of UNCTAD´s Trade and Development Report 2005. “I can also envisage our advising countries on how to make the best use of income gains, how to enhance information-sharing and how to prevent a race to the bottom in the search for new investors,” he said.The report cautions against complacency in the light of windfall gains from rising commodity prices in some developing countries. Those profits should be used, the report says, to help diversify their economies. Foreign direct investment (FDI) will continue to grow over the short and medium term, according to the financial experts, transnational corporations (TNCs) and investment promotion agencies (IPAs) who contributed to UNCTAD´s Global Investment Prospects Assessment (GIPA), also released this week. “The findings suggest that countries need to seize the investment opportunities but also to pay attention to the quality of FDI, given the fierce competition for investment,” Dr. Panitchpakdi said. Following the release of those reports, Dr. Panitchpakdi, who took over the UNCTAD post on 1 September, travelled to Geneva to open a conference on non-tariff barriers (NTBs) to trade, which runs until 7 September. NTBs vary from country to country and are hard to classify and quantify, Dr. Panitchpakdi said, and are estimated to affect 40 per cent of the trade of least developed countries (LDCs). “[NTBs] are increasing becoming front-stage market-access concerns for the world’s poorest nations,” he said. He announced his intention to appoint an informal group of eminent persons to study the matter. UNCTAD has been the focal point within the UN for the integrated treatment of trade and development and related issues in the areas of investment, finance, technology, enterprise development and sustainable development. It carries out three key functions: as a forum for intergovernmental deliberations, supported by discussions with experts and exchanges of experience, aimed at consensus building; in research, policy analysis and data collection for the debates of government representatives and experts; and in providing technical assistance tailored to the specific requirements of developing countries, with special attention to the needs of the least developed countries and economies in transition.

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