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World trade needs new strategic responses – UNCTAD forum

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New ideas are needed to fit the changing circumstances of world trade and to ensure that the economic growth spurred by these international exchanges results in benefits that are spread widely, trade experts said at a forum organised  by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) ahead of the UNCTAD XIII quadrennial conference that will take place from April 21 to 26 in Doha, Qatar.

The two-day forum was on redefining the role of governments in tomorrow’s international trade. Experts addressing the meeting repeatedly tied their comments to the UNCTAD XIII theme, “development-centred globalization”, a statement issued by UNCTAD said.

“Innovative, forward-looking approaches and ideas” are needed, said Anabel Gonzalez, Minister of Foreign Trade of Costa Rica, who served as Chair of the session.

Ms. Gonzalez noted that major shifts have occurred in trade patterns in recent years, led by burgeoning “South–South” commerce – that is, trade between developing countries – which she said “is expanding with such speed that it will soon become the mainstream of international trade flows.”

She noted that liberalized trade rules, more sophisticated and widespread information and communication technology, advances in transport, and “fluid capital mobility” are also influencing the way trade is carried out.

In addition, Ms Gonzalez said, trade is being affected by “challenges on a global scale – ranging from climate change to the energy resource crunch and food security concerns – that require a paradigm shift in industrial and agricultural production processes.”

UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Draganov, who gave the opening address, said the “rapidly altering landscape of the international economy” requires a re-assessment of the character and role of trade as a source of economic growth.

The past assumption that improved market access and intensified links between developing countries and the global economy are sufficient to broadly raise living standards often has not been borne out, he said.

Rising income inequality even during periods of strong growth in trade has indicated that “a more inclusive future” requires an approach that links strategies for trade to goals for social and economic equity, he added.

Mr. Draganov told the meeting that attention is needed not just to recent trends in world trade but to the process by which trade strategies are set – “that is, how best the interests and the needs of different sectors of society are brought into the formulation of forward-looking trade policy at the national and international levels.”

The dialogue also covered topics such as mapping the challenges for governments, export diversification in the twenty-first century, the government and the business sector in trade policy-making, an inclusive process for trade policy-making and a twenty-first century trade agenda.

By Ekow Quandzie

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