Elizabeth Morgan | UNCTAD XV, Barbados, 3-7 October: Focus on inequalities and vulnerability | New

Barbados is hosting a major United Nations (UN) conference, the 15th session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XV), from October 3-7. Barbados is the first country in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to host this conference. Run by a small state in one of the world’s most vulnerable regions, the theme of the conference is aptly “From Inequality and Vulnerability to Prosperity for All”.

The first UNCTAD conference was held in 1964 when the imperative was to make the link between trade and development, and to integrate into the world trading system the growing number of developing countries emerging from colonialism. These countries joined the UN and associated organizations, such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

Only two of the members of CARICOM, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, which became independent in 1962, were present at UNCTAD I in Geneva. In 1968, UNCTAD became a specialized agency of the United Nations headquartered in Geneva. Its current members are from 195 countries, including UN observers, the Holy See (the Vatican) and Palestine.

UNCTAD’s mandate is to help developing countries access the benefits of the globalized economy more equitably and effectively, and to prepare them for the possible challenges arising from greater economic integration. UNCTAD thus provides analysis, facilitates consensus building and offers technical assistance. This helps developing countries use trade, investment, finance and technology as vehicles for inclusive and sustainable development.

At the national, regional and global levels, UNCTAD helps countries, inter alia, to achieve beneficial integration into the international trading system; diversify economies; limit their exposure to financial volatility and debt; increase access to digital technology; and promote entrepreneurship and innovation.

In collaboration with other United Nations bodies, UNCTAD measures progress towards the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Also during this period, UNCTAD monitors the effects of the pandemic. of COVID-19 on manufacturing, trade, foreign direct investment and economic growth.

As I pointed out in my July 2 article, UNCTAD has its first female Secretary-General, Rebecca Grynspan of Costa Rica, who took office in September.


The UNCTAD Ministerial Conference is held every four years and is the main decision-making body. It approves the organization’s quadrennial (quadrennial) work program. In 2019, Barbados offered to host UNCTAD XV in October 2020 as the usual face-to-face meeting that would have seen the participation of delegations from most of its members. COVID-19 has changed those plans. The conference was postponed and postponed to this year with hopes of in-person attendance.

But, with the pursuit of COVID-19, resilience and innovation is being demonstrated as the meeting will mostly take place in a virtual format with a Caribbean flavor. There will be three summit dialogues of world leaders on global vulnerabilities, inequalities in the global pandemic and building a more prosperous development path. There will also be five ministerial round tables as well as the general debate. The conference was preceded by forums on commodities, youth, civil society, gender and development, creative industries and the digitization of commerce.

New chapter in trade and development

In the context of COVID-19 and a series of already existing global issues, UNCTAD XV is seen as the start of a new chapter in trade and development with the aim of better defining the needs of developing countries to better integrate into the global economy.

Work progressed in Geneva to reach an agreed text of the outcome document. As the conference is hosted by a SIDS and given the theme, Barbados, along with CARICOM partners and other SIDS members, aims to focus on the vulnerabilities of small states. In recent years, UNCTAD has focused on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), so it is understandable that CARICOM’s goal is to promote further action on issues of concern to this region. It is reported that on September 28, Jamaican Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, chaired the 96th Special Meeting of the CARICOM Council on Trade and Economic Development (COTED) to refine positions negotiations of the region for UNCTAD XV.

The conference will open on Monday, October 4 and will be delivered by UN Secretary General António Guterres; the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Rebecca Grynspan; the outgoing President, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya; and Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados as incoming conference chair.

– Elizabeth Morgan specializes in international trade policy and international politics. Send your comments by e-mail to [email protected]

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