Supachai Panitchpakdi

Interview with Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary General, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD.

Imagine that your organization didn’t exist and you were asked to invent it. What would you do? How would it be fundamentally different from what exists? What would be the differences regarding mandate, resources and objectives? 

 The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was formed in 1964 to address the needs of developing and least developed countries in relation to trade and development, and those needs remain relevant today. The world has changed beyond recognition since UNCTAD’s formation, but we are still searching for a solution to the perennial problem of underdevelopment and the role that trade can play in accelerating the development process. This has meant continuously changing the focus of the organization and adapting to the needs of its member States in line with the changing global economic conditions. In the last three decades there has been a proliferation in the number of organizations dealing with trade and development issues and assisting developing countries in export promotion. However, none of them are intergovernmental like UNCTAD with a membership of 194 countries, and none have a mandate from the General Assembly to address the issues of trade and development in an integrated manner, that is, together with investment, finance, technology and sustainable development. Nor do they have the capacity or mandate to combine the three pillars of work, namely: research and analysis with a view to providing developing countries with policy advice; intergovernmental machinery to build consensus on pertinent and emerging issues within its broad mandate; and technical cooperation to assist countries at the national level. Therefore, if UNCTAD did not exist, we would have had to invent it in its current format of work and mandate as there is still the need for an intergovernmental forum to bring both developed and developing countries together to create a common understanding of how trade and the related policies can help developing countries achieve inclusive development and fight poverty.

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