Why UNCTAD matters and what’s next for this organization?

Why UNCTAD matters and what’s next for this organization?
Mark Seddon

So what’s in a name? For Sixty years, developing countries have had a champion at the heart of the United Nations – in the Geneva based United Nations Conference on Trade & Development. Its purpose is to promote trade and development particularly in developing countries and it answers to the member States of the General Assembly. The primary objective of UNCTAD is to formulate policies relating to all aspects of development, including trade, aid, transport, finance and technology.

Morocco, along with other Maghreb countries, has played an active role throughout this time and can take some credit for UNCTAD’s success in implementing the Generalised System of Preferences which promotes the export of manufactured goods from developing countries. Two recent examples demonstrate the important role played by UNCTAD in Morocco, at that country’s request. Back in 2018 The Voluntary Peer Review on Consumer Protection Law and Policy of Morocco was conducted under the auspices of UNCTAD at its Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Consumer Protection Law and Policy. The recommendations that came from this exercise included legal and policy reform, as well as priority setting and capacity building. In 2020 ​UNCTAD attended and intervened in the National Seminar on Competition law and economics and personal Data protection, organised by the Competition Council of Morocco and the National Commission for the Control of Personal Data Protection. On the agenda then was the protection of personal data and Competition law and economics; personal data protection and competition in the digital economy; and personal data management by global digital platforms and its impact in national markets.

Speakers included the President and members of the Board of the Competition Council of Morocco, representatives from the Moroccan Commission for the Control of Personal Data Protection and the Moroccan Economic, Social and Environmental Council, the President of the French Competition Authority and foreign experts on data protection issues. 

This week the Secretary-General of the organisation, Rebecca Grynspan of Costa Rica, announced a major re-branding exercise. Henceforth the word ‘conference’ would be dropped from the title of the organisation – even as Member States prepare for the 60th anniversary conference later this year. What this means in practice is that both the power and the ability to set the agenda of the organisation is set to shift to the donor countries – essentially going away from the developing World to the developed World. The other knock-on effect is that this voice for the global South that has been associated with proposals that reduce economic dependency and inequality between developing and developed countries is set to lose its ability to critique the neo liberal economic model. Instead, Ms Grynspan intends to preside over what will be yet another top-down bureaucratic UN agency.  

The uncomfortable truth is that this is all ‘re-branding’ for a purpose. For the Maghreb Insider can reveal that Rebecca Grynspan intends to run for the post of UN Secretary General when Antonio Guterres retires in two years’ time. Currently something of an unknown, Grynspan appears to enjoy some high degree of support in and amongst the UN hierarchy. But the question some are just beginning to ask is why should the ethos, history and purpose of one of these very few instruments the global South can call their own be sacrificed for the ambitions of one individual? 


*Mark Seddon is a former Speechwriter to UN Secretary-General Ban ki moon & former Adviser to the Office of the President of the UN General Assembly

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to MAGHREB INSIDER.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.