UNCTAD Meet Adopts Work Programme, Signs Off on Fisheries Roadmap

28 July 2016

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) concluded its quadrennial conference on Friday 22 July, signing off on a work programme for its next four-year cycle. During the conference, UNCTAD released a “roadmap” backed by 90 countries and two fellow UN agencies for tackling harmful fisheries subsidies.

The 17-22 July UNCTAD XIV meeting was held in the Kenyan capital city of Nairobi, under the theme “From Decisions to Actions.” The gathering comes less than a year after the UN adopted its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), along with the approval of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development. (See Bridges Weekly, 1 October 2015 and 23 July 2015)

Despite the various achievements in global economic governance last year, particularly in relation to sustainable development, high-level officials at the event also stressed that the sluggish nature of the global recovery is continuing to take its toll.

“There are worrying signs that people around the world are increasingly unhappy with the state of the global economy,” said outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the start of the conference.

The UN chief further warned that the problems facing both trade and investment have only exacerbated the public scepticism over the potential merits of globalisation – leading to some political figures at the national level promoting a return to inward-looking policies.

“The vision set out in the SDGs – for people, planet, prosperity and peace – will not succeed if shocks and stresses in our global economic and financial system are not properly addressed,” he added. Furthermore, he said, those same goals could be essential for restoring public trust in that same global economy.

Along with the main event, UNCTAD XIV also saw a series of related gatherings held in tandem, such as the World Investment Forum, Civil Society Forum, Youth Forum, and Global Commodities Forum.

Four-year work programme

The UNCTAD Conferences are the highest level of meeting for the UN body, and among other tasks delineate the priorities and overall vision for the agency for the next four years.

The weeklong talks in Nairobi ultimately led to a consensus document dubbed the “Maafikiano.” A related political declaration known as the “Azimio” was prepared by the government of Kenya.

“I’m delighted that our 194 member states have been able to reach this consensus, giving a central role to UNCTAD in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Mukhisa Kituyi, the organisation’s secretary-general.

The political declaration outlines the current global economic and geopolitical context, such as income and wealth inequality; a sluggish recovery from the financial crisis; and the challenges posed by climate change, volatile commodity prices, and food security concerns, among others.

However, the Azimio also flags the potential for change, particularly in the wake of the UN Sustainable Development Summit last year and the possible benefits that this new international development framework could create depending on how governments and other stakeholders proceed.

“If implemented effectively, these agreements will contribute towards the realisation of common aspirations to achieve prosperity, dignity and a better planet for all,” the document says. It further highlights the potential of trade as an engine for growth, as well as the value of investment, particularly in improved infrastructure.

Regarding the UN agency itself, the Azimio pledges that its role “will be strengthened as the focal point within the United Nations system for the integrated treatment of trade and development and interrelated issues in the areas of finance, technology, investment and sustainable development as dispensed through its three pillars of consensus-building, research and analysis, and technical assistance, with the overall objective of achieving prosperity for all.”

The related Maafikiano stretches to nearly 30 pages, and was reportedly reached following round-the-clock negotiations in the Kenyan capital.

Along with outlining various ways in which UNCTAD should structure its work in light of the 2030 Agenda and Addis Ababa Action Agenda, as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change, the text includes several points on how the agency should cater its efforts toward supporting the development-related needs of different country groups, depending on their specific circumstances.

The final text is later divided into a series of sub-themes, with each one including policy analysis on the chosen subject, as well as a series of bullet points outlining what the UN agency’s specific role should be in these areas.

The sub-themes address areas such as navigating the current and expected trade and development landscape; fostering inclusive, sustainable long-term growth via trade, investment, finance, and technology; supporting structural transformation; and assisting in the implementation and follow-up of both the 2030 Agenda and other related global outcomes.

Fisheries roadmap

The fisheries roadmap announced last week is set out in a joint statement by UNCTAD, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“Getting 90 countries to sign up to a new initiative in such a short period of time shows both the need for this initiative and the power of UNCTAD in building consensus for meaningful change,” said Kituyi.

Member states expressing support for the roadmap include the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group (ACP), Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay. Other supporters listed in the roadmap include the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat, and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), as well as several civil society groups.

“This roadmap is a strong and unequivocal plea by all those supporting the joint UNCTAD-FAO-UNEP statement that elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies must be achieved by the next WTO Ministerial Conference in 2017,” said UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Joakim Reiter.

The roadmap highlights the importance of the specific SDG (14) focused on sustainable fisheries and marine management, noting its value in also supporting food security efforts at both the national and global scale.

Along with outlining the past difficulties in agreeing on how to tackle fisheries subsidies – particularly given that some estimates place these at up to US$35 billion – the roadmap notes that there are significant gaps in data regarding this particular type of state aid. The document also makes a distinction between those subsidies that can support development objectives, versus those which cause overfishing and subsequently put at risk the livelihoods of people whose income relies on the fish sector.

The document therefore sets out four “minimum outcomes” that could help address harmful fisheries subsidies.

These include significantly improved provisions on fisheries subsidy notifications; a clear ban on those subsidies that contribute to overfishing, overcapacity, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; “adequate and appropriate” ways to prevent new subsidies of this nature from being introduced; and special treatment of developing countries, in particular Small Island Developing States.

The joint statement also urges more countries to ratify the Port State Measures Agreement, which is the first binding accord aimed at tackling IUU fishing. The deal entered into force earlier this year. (See Bridges Weekly, 25 May 2016)

Meanwhile, trade sources say that WTO members are still mulling the idea of a global accord on disciplining fisheries subsidies, after earlier efforts to agree on a timeframe for negotiating such disciplines – along with approving commitments on additional notifications for subsidy programmes – hit a snag during the organisation’s Nairobi ministerial conference last December. (See Bridges Weekly, 19 December 2015)

However, delegations in Geneva are reportedly divided as to how to proceed in this area, even as many remarked on the target within the SDGs on prohibiting those fisheries subsidies which exacerbate overfishing and overcapacity, along with those that support IUU fishing. That SDG target, numbered 14.6, sets the year 2020 for achieving this goal.

ICTSD reporting; “UNCTAD’s Work On IP To Continue In Strengthened Four-Year Mandate,” IP-WATCH, 25 July 2016.

This article is published under
28 July 2016
Talks last week on negotiating a possible new agricultural safeguard mechanism for developing countries sparked intense debate among WTO members, sources say, with those in favour of the instrument...
28 July 2016
WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo has encouraged members to shift from “reflection to action” mode, as delegations prepare to consider what outcomes they might strive for at the organisation’s...