Malaysia should send  a high-level  Ministerial team for the UNCTAD V in Bangkok with the mission to mobilise support of developing countries to restore the pre-eminence of UNCTAD as the World Parliament on Globalization

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said today that Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr  Mahathir Mohamad will be the first key speaker to address the 10th  conference of Unctad, the United Nations agency for trade and development  in Bangkok on Saturday.

He said Mahathir's key-note address would touch on globalisation, the financial system, free trade and development as well as other issues which affect Malaysia.

 In conjunction with UNCTAD  X, the prime minister will attend the Asean-UN Summit between Asean heads of government and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and heads of UN agencies, which will be held just before the plenary opening of the UNCTAD X.

 Syed Hamid said Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Kerk Choo Ting will represent Malaysia at the UNCTAD which would broadly discuss regional politics and security, development and Asean-UN relations.

Syed Hamid is right when he said that Mahathir would be the first key speaker to address UNCTAD X.

According to the official UNCTAD X programme, the official opening of the UNCTAD X  Plenary Meeting in Bangkok would be held on Saturday  for one hour from 6.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. comprising:

This would be followed by half an hour of  keynote  speeches by the three heads of government or state in ASEAN of   ten minutes each, starting with Mahathir, followed by Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid and Singapore  Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

UNCTAD X is the first major global trade meeting since violent demonstrations marred the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle and the World Economic Forum (WEF)  in Davos, and it is most regrettable that Malaysia would only be headed by the Deputy Minister for International Trade and Industry in the nine-day conference proper after the departure of the Prime Minister.

Although an earlier UNCTAD statement said that about 3,000 ministers, senior government officials, representatives of  international agencies and non-governmental organisations will be attending  UNCTAD X, the representation in Bangkok is not as high-powered as in the WEF which was attended by United States President Clinton, United Kingdom Prime Minister, Tony Blair, South African President Thabo Mbeki and several Prime Ministers from the European countries apart from the world’s corporate and IT titans.

UNCTAD’s "golden era" was in the sixties and seventies when it was the principal vehicle of the Third World countries in their effort to restructure the world economy where instead of promoting aid, UNCTAD focussed on changing the rules of international trade and secured the industrialized countries to accept the principle of preferential tariffs for developing countries.

By the eighties however, UNCTAD was in sharp decline when the North launched a counteroffensive to defang, if not dismantle UNCTAD, until development as an issue for the international community had totally dropped off the global agenda. By the nineties, there were even  calls for the abolition of UNCTAD on the ground that it had been made obsolete by the creation of the World Trade Organisation.

This is the important reason why many Malaysians, and I believe in the developing world,  are surprised that there is going to be a UNCTAD Conference in Bangkok, as they thought that UNCTAD has ceased to exist.

There is a strong school of thought in the Third World that the collapse of the Third WTO Ministerial in Seattle provides an opportunity for UNCTAD to reclaim a central role in setting the rules for global trade and development.

This is the most critical decision to be made by UNCTAD X in Bangkok, especially as the WTO and  two central institutions of the Northern-dominated system of economic glboal governance, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, are undergoing a severe crisis of legitimacy.

The redefinition of globalisation to ensure that it is people-centred must also involve the reform of  institutions of global governance, by ensuring UNCTAD can play an active role in the globalisation debate.

If this is to be achieved, the developed countries must send the highest-level of representation to UNCTAD X as the developed countries have never taken UNCTAD seriously.

It is for this reason why the Malaysian Government should send a high-level  Ministerial team for the nine-day UNCTAD V in Bangkok with the mission to mobilise support of developing countries to restore the pre-eminence of UNCTAD as the World Parliament on Globalization and ensure that developing countries have a greater say in the redefinition of the globalisation process.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman