Strengthen the Countervailing Powers of the UN System

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As the Bretton Woods institutions are dismantled, the countervailing institutional power required to reform the global trade and financial systems and end global corporate rule can come from strengthened states and a reformed United Nations.  We hasten to note that though we believe that the United Nations should be strengthened in its mandate and resources, we also believe that international institutions should have responsibility and authority only for such functions as cannot be reasonably carried out at national and local levels.  Wherever possible, the primary responsibility of international institutions should be to support effective and responsive democratic governance at national and local levels.

There are strong arguments for upgrading the capacity of the World Health Organization, International Labor Organization, and United Nations Environmental Program to address trade-related health, labor, and environmental issues.  Appropriate programs will need to be worked out for each relevant UN agency. The following takes UNCTAD as an example of the kind of strengthened roles UN agencies might play in global economic governance under a post-Bretton Woods regime.



UNCTAD

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was created in 1964 and, over the next decade, became the principal vehicle used by developing country governments in their effort to restructure the global economy to support their national development efforts. Subsequently, as the Bretton Woods institutions flexed their muscle, UNCTAD became increasingly marginalized — along with the concerns of Southern countries.



We urge UNCTAD to also take a lead role in the UN system in challenging the hegemony of the WTO as the ultimate arbiter of trade and development issues. It should propose an arrangement whereby the relevant expertise of organizations such as UNCTAD, the ILO, WTO, UNEP, and the implementing bodies of multilateral environmental agreements and regional economic blocs is brought to bear on these issues, participating as equals to clarify, define, and implement international economic policies in service to people and planet.



Here are three transitional international agreements that UNCTAD might initiate which would begin to move the world toward a more just, sustainable, and democratic system.

  • An agreement on "Economic Self-Determination” that would accord Southern countries “special and differential treatment" in global trade, investment, and finance
  • UNCTAD could also play a key role in addressing the critical nexus of trade and the environment.  Together with the UN Environmental Program and UNDP, UNCTAD could lead in drafting an agreement specifying broad but binding guidelines and a pluralistic mechanism, involving civil society actors, that would resolve the conflicting claims of trade bodies, multilateral environmental agreements, governments, and NGOs.
  • UNCTAD could also lead in forging a "New Deal" for agriculture in developing countries.  The emphasis of such a convention would not be the integration of agriculture into world trade but the integration of trade into a development strategy that will put the emphasis on raising incomes and employment in the agricultural sector, achieving food security through a significant degree of food self sufficiency, and promoting ecologically sustainable production.