The Trade and Development Board of UNCTAD convened in October its 48th Session

Analysis: The UN Conference on Trade and Development has worked to avoid the politicization that has often plagued UN agencies. Indeed, in February 1999, UNCTAD Secretary General Rubens Ricupero referred to it as a “child of the 60s.” Yet the meeting this week of the Trade and Development Board, showcasing the technical cooperation given in the form of country-wide and regional projects, demonstrates that the agency has shed its once high-minded idealism, as it too places undue emphasis on the Palestinian situation.

Item 5b of the Secretariat’s “Report on UNCTAD’s assistance to the Palestinian people,” seeks to affirm the agency’s commitment “to assist the Palestinian people to develop effective policy-making and management pertaining to international trade, investment, and related services.”

Clearly the needs of all Member states need to be addressed. And the report is laudable in it efforts to highlight the structural weaknesses and “chronic imbalances” inherent in the Palestinian economy.

But a close look at UNCTAD’s figures casts doubt on their own “capacities for effective policy-making and management.” As cited in the report, the estimated Palestinian population in 2000 was nearly 3 million and the GDP per capita was $1,364. In Zambia, a country of over 9 million ravaged by HIV/AIDS, the per capita GDP in 2000 was $880.  Over the course of 2000, UNCTAD has implemented efforts for which it had earmarked more than a quarter of a million dollars on Palestinian projects, while budgeting little more than $200,000 on Zambian projects.  So a country with the per capita output 40 percent that of the Palestinians merits from the agency charged with overseeing the world’s development only a quarter of the resources.  It would seem, though, that this condition was not limited to Zambia. Indeed, speaking of behalf of the African Group, the representative of Senegal lamented the decline in UNCTAD’s technical commitments to Africa.

The evidence above demonstrates that UNCTAD has been inefficient in its allocation of resources and irresponsible in its disregard for other far more wretched cases. Moreover, it has fallen prey to the anti-Israel politicization rampant in the United Nations,  led by the efforts of the Arab delegations, who were quick to abandon the more salient features of the Secretariat’s report for blanket denunciations of “Israeli measures against the Palestinian people.” Secretary General Ricupero would do well to revisit his sentiments of February 1999, as some unencumbered thinking on the part of UNCTAD, free from the political machinations of its less scrupulous states, would well serve the interests of the UN agency, and in turn, those of its most needy cases.

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