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Timeline Events / UNCTAD established & UNCTAD-I Geneva

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was established as a subsidiary organ of the United Nations General Assembly to promote the integration of developing countries into the world economy in order to accelerate their development.  At the first conference, UNCTAD-I, in Geneva in 1964, the developing countries established the Group of 77 to voice their concerns (today, the G77 has 131 members).   At the time, many developing countries were only recently independent from colonial rule, and made historic challenges to developed countries demanding economic and political independence. 

Today, the mandate of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) continues to support three key functions:
– a forum for intergovernmental deliberations
– research, policy analysis and data collection
– technical assistance, especially to least developed countries and economies in transition. (UNCTAD website)

The prominent Argentinian economist Raúl Prebisch, who had headed the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, became the organization’s first Secretary-General, and the first conference, UNCTAD-I, was convened in Geneva in 1964.  At this conference, the developing countries established the Group of 77 to voice their concerns (today, the G77 has 131 members).   Developing countries, many only recently independent, made historic challenges to developed countries, demanding economic and political independence. (Bell, 1973)

Famously, Che Guevara addressed the conference with special reference to technology and foreign investment, and highlighting concerns about the dependence that acceptance of these ‘inflows’ perpetuated.  “The inflow of capital from the developed countries is the prerequisite for the establishment of economic dependence. This inflow takes various forms: loans granted on onerous terms; investments that place a given country in the power of the investors; almost total technological subordination of the dependent country to the developed country; control of a country’s foreign trade by the big international monopolies; and in extreme cases, the use of force as an economic weapon in support of the other forms of exploitation.”  (Guevara, 1964)

Ideas of political and economic sovereignty are echoed in various forms internationally around this period – from China and India’s quite different interpretations of policies for ‘self-reliance’ to economic ‘dependency theory’ developed especially among Latin American theorists and activists and built on the basis of the Prebisch-Singer hypothesis.  Dependency theorists criticised industrialisation policies that perpetuated reliance on foreign capital without being able to effectively accrue or maintain the benefits of industrialisation (a decline in the terms of trade between industrialised and non-industrialised countries meant the benefits of technology and international trade accrue to the industrialised nations) and hence perpetuating global orders of power.  These arguments also set the stage for debates between the G77 and Group B (the bloc of industrialised or OECD nations) on the conditions and terms under which technology is transferred, an issue that continued to be a point of conflict at following UNCTAD conferences.  See UNCTAD II.



Bell, C. (ed) (1973) The Future of UNCTAD, IDS Bulletin 5.1

Guevara, C. (1964) ‘On Development’ Speech delivered by Che Guevara at the plenary session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva, Switzerland on March 25, 1964.  See http://www.scribd.com/doc/267633/Che-Guevara-On-Development  for English transcription.

UNCTAD website http://www.unctad.org/Templates/Page.asp?intItemID=1530&lang=1


Link: http://www.unctad.org/Templates/Page.asp?intItemID=1530&lang=1

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