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Hosting UNCTAD in 2020: Small countries and big stakes

Published on 22 July 2019
Updated on 05 April 2024

Barbados will host the 15th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) quadrennial meeting in October 2020.  It will be the first small state to host the conference. According to the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Motley, hosting the conference will place Barbados at the centre of the global discussion on trade and development issues. Given that small states often struggle with visibility in the international arena and have difficulties positioning themselves on the global radar, hosting this conference is a major accomplishment for Barbados, and by extension, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and other small states.

Hosting the conference will create a platform for small states to share experiences and good practices – in their ambition to build more resilient economies and identify ways of fostering sustainable economic growth – and to find novel ways to sustain the momentum after the conference ends.

For CARICOM countries, it is an opportunity to bring global attention to their support for the rule-based, multilateral trading system embodied in the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO reform has been discussed in various quarters and there are a number of proposals on the table which have largely been advanced by developed countries.  Hosting the conference presents the CARICOM region with the opportunity to emphasise the need to ‘include small developing countries in these discussions to ensure their interests are secured and to preserve and strengthen the long-established principles, including Technical Assistance and Capacity Building (TACB), Special and Differential Treatment and the recognition of the concept of Small and Vulnerable Economies’ (COTED 2018).  These principles are all linked to the sustainable development and successful integration of CARICOM member states into the global economy.

CARICOM countries have been working closely with a number of groups to advance common interests on the impact of climate change on trade and the vulnerability of small states. They could use the conference to highlight the unique challenges faced by small island states and stress the deleterious impacts of such events on trade and development. The conference could bring focused international attention to these issues, especially since the International Monetary Fund has already indicated that climate change poses the biggest economic risks to the global economy.

Small states suffer from a host of inherent vulnerabilities given their small population and the size of their economies. Hosting the conference will lift the profile of small states in UNCTAD and signal their capacity to punch above their weight. In hosting the conference, Barbados has the opportunity to prove that small states can manage the conduct of these conferences.

Rawl Prescott is a Project Officer at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat and holds a Post Graduate Diploma in International Studies.

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