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20 Apr, 2012

Developing Countries Seek New Economic Deal, Spurn “Free Market” Neoliberalism


Doha, Qatar, 19 April 2012 (UNCTAD Press Release) – Ministers of the world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs), meeting here in advance of the UNCTAD XIII quadrennial conference, adopted a declaration reaffirming the LDCs’ support for the concept – long advocated by UNCTAD – of the “developmental State.” The document also called for strengthening of the organization and for bolstering its research, technical-cooperation, and consensus-building work.

The declaration, noting that LDCs currently account for only 1 per cent of international trade and that they attract foreign investment mostly to their extractive industries – which tend to create few jobs and tend not to lead to broader domestic economic development — says that “efforts to build the developmental State” are the “key to drive economic growth.”

“We underline the importance of the balanced role of the State and market considerations, where the State designs policies and institutions with a view to achieving sustainable and inclusive economic growth as well as creates an appropriate enabling stable, transparent, and rules-based economic environment for the effective functioning of markets,” the declaration reads.

The document goes on to urge redoubled efforts by “trading and development partners, including developing countries that are in a position to do so” to support the LDCs in their efforts to expand, diversify, and fortify their economies and in their efforts to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs include such targets are halving extreme poverty by 2015.

The declaration requests that such assistance “should go beyond ODA (official development assistance) to include, in a holistic manner, transfer of technology and know-how as well as building technological capacities and innovation in our countries.” It also urges industrialized countries to meet internationally established targets for ODA.

The concept of the developmental State goes against much international economic orthodoxy of the past few decades. The prevailing approach has called for governments to back off, contending that free markets then are liberated to spur economic growth directly. Several UNCTAD reports in recent years have charged that this approach, often called neoliberal economics, has not worked. In recent UNCTAD reports, including the Least Developed Countries Report 2011, the organization has advocated that the governments of poor countries take steps to encourage economic growth that will be stable, long-lasting, and likely to expand employment.

The LDC Ministerial Declaration also echoes UNCTAD’s stress on expanding LDCs’ productive capacities – that is, the abilities of their economies to produce broader varieties of goods, and goods of greater sophistication. UNCTAD has said in recent years that building productive capacity creates more and better paying jobs and leaves impoverished nations less vulnerable to historically volatile international prices for commodities such as raw natural resources and basic agricultural goods.

UNCTAD XIII, which is focused on the theme of “development-centred globalization” begins on 21 April and continues through April 26.

The LDC declaration further calls on donor countries to “support the commodity sectors of our countries, including through commodity diversification and value addition,” to enable LDCs “greater participation in global value chains on an equitable basis as a way to promote sustainable market-driven growth.”

And the document requests that something be done to “ease the burden of demanding quality and delivery standards” for LDC exports seeking to enter developed-country markets.” As trade barriers have fallen in recent years, LDCs have expressed concern that rich nations have been setting the bar for entry higher through health and quality standards LDC producers often cannot meet.

Among requests the declaration makes of UNCTAD are that the organization “undertake studies to help the LDCs better understand and address the factors that may be holding back their efforts to achieve the MDGs;” that it “assess the development effectiveness of aid;” and that it build on recent work to “advance the conceptual and analytical framework on the need for building productive capacities in LDCs.”