New Gender Trade Coalition’s statement on the UNCTAD 15th mandate with the support of WIDE+

This week the Gender and Trade Coalition’s statement on UNCTAD XV was launched (download the statement as PDF). The statement asserts that UNCTAD must resist attempts by the global North to reduce and hijack its mandate, to instead promote gender justice through a broad macroeconomic development lens that connects policies around debt, tax, human rights, climate justice, and trade.

The statement is supported by WIDE+ gender and trade working group and made possible through its contributions. WIDE+ is a member of the Steering Group of the GTC as Northern based feminists network next to a range of feminist networks from the global South.

For the first time, the UNCTAD Conference will include a Gender and Development Forum with the objective of enabling member states to reflect on effective recommendations for the outcome document, particularly regarding UNCTAD’s work on gender and development. Unfortunately, the negotiating text is closing before the Forum can deliver its key messages.

The Civil Society Statement outlines how civil society has been repeatedly blocked from contributing actively throughout the UNCTAD XV mandate negotiations, and what are critical issues in the current statement Organizations can consider endorsing this letter to member states on these remaining disparities before 22 September.

Feminist Demands

In the collective letter of the Gender Trade Coalition, WIDE+ with all other members call on UN Member States to:

  • Restore the primacy of gender justice over the economic goals of trade and investment policies. This includes a complete transformation of global macro-economic governance, including the current trade and investment systems, towards one that is based on human rights and respect for life and ecosystems, and that advances sustainable development. Without addressing the adverse impact of current trade and investment rules on women and gender non-conforming peoples, we would not be able to tackle the deepening inequality and exploitation.
  • Ensure the inclusive and transparent participation of a broad group of stakeholders, including women’s groups, in trade policy and agreement negotiations, improving democratic control and engagement in global negotiations for all UN Member States. UNCTAD should be mandated for the capacity building of trade ministry officials to better equip them in redesigning trade negotiations. It should further extend technical assistance to enhance the capacity of stakeholders to engage.
  • Ensure trade policy measures take a gender mainstreaming perspective, whereby all trading arrangements under negotiations are assessed according to their positive and negative impacts on women and gender non-conforming peoples, with policy being designed accordingly. Trade policy can only be sustainable if policies are transformed to achieve economic goals based on a feminist economic paradigm. This means an economy in which the economy of care is fully acknowledged, and the economy serves well-being objectives vis-à-vis growth in productivity. This paradigm ensures women’s human rights are protected as part of a global vision for social justice, human rights, and environmental protection.
  • UNCTAD is able to function from a broad mandate in which the international debt and tax structure and the ongoing digital transformation of the global economy are discussed in relation to trade policy.

Undermining role of EU

In its proposals for the draft text, the EU demonstrates that it seeks to prioritize the World Trade Organisation (WTO) above UNCTAD as a space to promote trade policy. This vision is not shared by other UNCTAD Member States including the G77, which holds a more critical view of the WTO. To date, the WTO has proven that it seeks to promote commercial interests, especially those of corporations in the global North, above human rights and the environment. The Gender and Trade Coalition, together with 160 other civil society organization, called on state parties to the WTO to refrain from adopting the proposed “Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment” in 2017. This declaration failed to address the adverse impact of WTO rules on women and girls; instead, it appears to be designed to mask the failures of the WTO and its
role in deepening inequality and exploitation.

The EU has been undermining the intellectual integrity of UNCTAD in the negotiations. Earlier drafts pointed to “the importance of the analytical pillar of UNCTAD is underscored, especially the intellectual independence of the secretariat to conduct ahead of the curve analytical work with policy recommendations to inform the consensus-building pillar.” However, this was undercut but EU proposals for “UNCTAD publications shall always undergo an established peer review process with relevant UN and other entities, as well as make sure of incorporating existing academic research and reports of relevant international organisations” that are reflected in the text (96.bis.primus. agreed ad ref). Any publication of the World Bank Group, the WTO or any EU bodies do not require a mandatory review process. UNCTAD publications already maintain rigorous standards of research and analysis. Effective policy can only be based on data-driven analysis provided by research that is not biased by the political interests of certain states. Therefore, it would be counterproductive to demand that research documents are reviewed and adjusted by non-academic institutions.

The G77 envisages a broad mandate for UNCTAD in the coming four years (para 112), whilst the EU seeks to limit UNCTAD’s agenda. The G77 promotes the kind of policy coherence that is lacking in EU’s trade policy. The G77 stresses that UNCTAD should continue with its broad macro-economic mandate including generating analysis for developing countries on how to diversify their economies, reduce commodity dependence, and reform the international investment regime