After Sharp Concerns, Cooperation Prevails On UNCTAD’s Mandate For Next Four Years

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After the thirteenth quadrennial session of the United Nations body focusing on trade and development, which was to set its mandate for the next four years, delegates reached consensus and avoided major pitfalls, according to several developed and developing country sources. The governments also worked out differences on UNCTAD’s mandate for work on intellectual property rights.

Developing countries asked balance in the intellectual property system, while some developed countries had concerns that UNCTAD’s work could overlap with other UN agencies, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization, and advocated robust IP protection.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) held its periodic mandate-setting gathering in Doha, Qatar, from 21-26 April. The plenary adopted two outcome documents at its conclusion.

One of those documents is the “Doha Mandate” [pdf], which presents agreed conclusions on policy analysis and the role of UNCTAD, in particular on the theme of this quadrennial meeting: “Development-centred globalization: towards inclusive and sustainable growth and development,” according to an UNCTAD press release.

In addition to the main theme, the mandate contains five sub-themes, each of which is divided into a policy analysis followed by the role of UNCTAD on that particular sub-theme.

The second document is a “political declaration” named the “Doha Manar” [pdf], “in reference to the Arabic term for beacon. According to the release, the manar acknowledges “the need to strengthen UNCTAD and the impact of its work by enhancing its efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, accountability and partnerships.”

Paragraph 18 of the mandate states that UNCTAD “remains the focal point in the United Nations for the integrated treatment of trade and development, and interrelated issues in the areas of finance, technology, investment and sustainable development. UNCTAD should continue to work within its mandate – through its three pillars, delivering meaningful results, utilizing available resources, while enhancing synergies and promoting complementarities with the work of other international organizations.”

UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said the outcome was a “significant achievement,” in particular “considering the differences that had to be bridged.”

Divergent IP Views to Aggregate

Before the meeting, countries had been working on a draft president’s negotiating text (IPW, United Nations, 11 April 2012) and several countries had submitted position papers revealing divergent views on intellectual property.

The “JUSSCANNZ” group (Japan, United States, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Norway and New Zealand) favoured a sound IP rights protection framework, and the European Union said the work of UNCTAD should not overlap with the work of other UN organisations.

The Group of 77 plus China called for balance in the global intellectual property system, and the group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) recalled the binding obligations for developed members of the WTO to enable the transfer of technology to the LDCs.

IP rights are mentioned in the Doha Mandate paragraph 65 (j), which acknowledges “that WIPO [World Intellectual Property Organization] has the lead in IPR [IP rights] issues in the United Nations system” and that “UNCTAD will continue its work on IPR as it relates to trade and development.”

The Doha Mandate also reaffirms the previous UNCTAD mandate, as adopted in Accra, Ghana, at UNCTAD XII in April 2008 [pdf], in paragraph 17, which is considered, according to a source, to be a compromise language, since that was a major concern for developing countries.

This consolidation of the Accra mandate was hailed the Group of 77 plus China who said, according to the release, that for the group “the most important issues in drafting the text had been reaffirming and building upon the Accra Accord, and that had been achieved.”

EU Satisfied with Mandate

The EU, which has been cautious about UNCTAD’s work in IP, said it is content with this outcome. “We believe that this agreement is a balanced and ambitious compromise in which all its member states can feel comfortable to work together in the next four years,” the EU said in a press release, supporting the language of paragraph 18 of the mandate.

UNCTAD, the EU release said, “should continue delivering meaningful results, while enhancing synergies and promoting complementarities with the work of other international organizations.”

Regarding concerns that UNCTAD’s work could overlap with the work of other agencies, an EU source told Intellectual Property Watch that that paragraph 65 (j) of the mandate stating that WIPO has the lead in IPR issues in the UN system,” answered its concerns about the work of UNCTAD and represented balance between the interests of developed and developing countries in the text.”

Some of the key priorities of the EU which were met in Doha, the source said, are: “references to investment in promoting development, economic diversification, productive capacities, South-South and triangular cooperation and regional integration, commodities, the enhanced role of the private sector and good governance.”

Worries Soothed On Role of UNCTAD

On the eve of UNCTAD XIII, a group of former UNCTAD senior officials issued a letter presenting UNCTAD as the provider of “an alternative view to that offered by the World Bank and the IMF [International Monetary Fund] controlled by the west.” In that letter [pdf], the signatories alleged that developing countries in Geneva, were “struggling to resist the strong pressure piled on them by OECD countries.”

The letter advocated the work of UNCTAD and said that “disparate views on economic policy are needed” as the world is trying to reach “new economic thinking” to find a sustainable way out of the global crisis.

The UNCTAD XIII outcome was seen as satisfactory by veteran UNCTAD observer John Burley, former director of the UNCTAD Division for Services Infrastructure and Trade Efficiency, and a signatory to the letter.

“Thanks to the support offered in the statement of former staff members of UNCTAD and a rigorous campaign in the media and by civil society organisations, developing countries were successful in ensuring that there will continue to be plurality of views in the international system on the causes of the present economic crisis and in the search for sustainable ways out of it,” he told Intellectual Property Watch. “Fortunately, neither the message, nor the messenger, was silenced at Doha.”

Another signatory of the letter, Carlos Fortin, deputy secretary-general of UNCTAD from 1990 to 2005, kept a cautious voice in his blog, saying, “It is unlikely that efforts at silencing dissent in international debates concerning the global economy and development will go away easily. We must remain vigilant.”

Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, an intergovernmental organisation of developing countries, said in an article published in The Star (Malaysia) “the G77 and China and its regional groupings finally succeeded in convincing the developed countries to reaffirm the Accra Accord, to not place new conditions on UNCTAD’s future work, and to continue to work on the financial crisis.”

“International development cooperation was put to a severe test, and the developing countries came out successfully in defending the mandate and work of the UN’s most important development organisation,” Khor said.

UNCTAD Work on IP for Next Four Years

Work on IP will continue at UNCTAD, in the Intellectual Property Unit, Division on Investment and Enterprise, which welcomed the outcome of UNCTAD XIII.

“I am happy that our member states have agreed that our work is of relevance to them,” Kiyoshi Adachi, legal officer and chief of the Intellectual Property Unit, Investment Capacity-Building Branch, told Intellectual Property Watch. “We will work our hardest to ensure that, in line with the Doha Mandate and the Accra Accord, we will continue to deliver outputs that examine how IP issues interact with development objectives.”

Adachi added: “we are confident that our work will help UNCTAD respond to Recommendation 40 of the WIPO Development Agenda and to ensure that UNCTAD fulfils its role as a named stakeholder in WHO’s 2008 Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property.” WHO is the World Health Organization.

According to Adachi, the IP Unit “will continue to undertake research and analysis on IP and technology transfer, as they relate to trade and development.” Major areas of work will build on existing programmes, he said, in particular projects examining the relationship between IP, technology transfer and the local production of pharmaceuticals in developing countries, projects analysing the interface between national implementation of IP policies and the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

On the Nagoya Protocol, he said, UNCTAD “is currently preparing a handbook on this interface, which will be used as text material for a capacity building workshop in Southeast Asia this fall.”

Catherine Saez may be reached at

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