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Mood on International Trade Somber Ahead of UNCTAD 14

FILE - A man works at a rubber factory in Songon village, north of Abidjan, January 25, 2016.

A senior U.N. official is warning that a growing sense of global inequality accompanied by low productivity gains and wages is stiffening resistance to international trade. The comment came in the lead-up to the 14th session of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD 14, next month in Nairobi.

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said the gloss is rubbing off the growing optimism of recent years that Africa was rising, while Asia retained its position as an economic powerhouse and other regions were benefiting from a general uptick in the global economy.

He said these regions now are largely beset by stagnation as economies slow down. He said low employment and rising debt are leading to the most rapid expansion of economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa in 70 years.

“In the developed world, we are seeing a number of things. One, the growing unpopularity of international trade, particularly, we see all the major parties in the United States a rejectionist of internationalism. The challenges of slow growth are also leading to some forms of phobia. You see the anxiety in Europe about immigrants from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa,” said Kituyi.

FILE - Piles of steel pipes to be exported are seen in front of cranes at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, March 7, 2015.
FILE - Piles of steel pipes to be exported are seen in front of cranes at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, March 7, 2015.

Doha trade talks

He said the Doha trade talks, which began under the umbrella of the World Trade Organization in 2001, remain stuck. Kituyi said there is declining optimism that problems such as domestic agricultural subsidies can be sorted out through the multilateral process.

He said UNCTAD 14 cannot attempt to make progress on the Doha talks' problems as they remain under the purview of WTO.

"But, we come back to the reality that we can raise the question of how can we breathe new fresh air in the development side of international trade? How can we revive international trade as a positive force for inclusive prosperity, for new opportunities for others, for greater access to quality products at competitive prices internationally? How can we push back the sense that international trade is about robbing rich countries of their own market and labor opportunities," he said.

UNCTAD Secretary-General Kituyi says these are legitimate questions for discourse. He says the Nairobi talks offer the opportunity to address these and other difficult and controversial issues without the passion and impassioned politics surrounding the matter in some countries today.