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Building knowledge for trade and development



The fourth Virtual Institute study visit for Colombian affiliate member, Universidad Sergio Arboleda, brought 15 Master's in International Trade students to UNCTAD October 19. The day’s sessions examined the latest Trade and Development Report (TDR),  trade in services in Colombia and the international investment regime.

The session on the TDR, presented by Alex Izurieta, of UNCTAD's Division on Globalization and Development Strategies, began with an overview of the current global economic situation.

“The crisis has not been overcome yet and a risk of prolonged stagnation remains,” Izurieta said.

“Insufficient demand in developed economies is the biggest constraint, which confirms that the mixture of monetary expansion with wage restraint in developed countries is no solution” he explained “These policies have only increased the level of financial instability.”

Instead, developed countries need to combine monetary expansion with fiscal expansion and wage growth and  avoid international spillovers of their policies, whereas developing economies should extend their regional and interregional initiatives, he argued.

”We need to ensure long-term development finance, and in this, public institutions such as development banks are crucial for developing countries because they provide long-term, productive investment as opposed to financial markets which prefer short-term and low-risk operations,” he added.

During the second session, Luisa Rodriguez, of the Division on International Trade in Goods and Services and Commodities, discussed the role of trade in services in development and presented cases pertaining to Colombia.

She started by presenting the new Agenda for Sustainable Development and explaining each of the new goals. She stressed that maximizing the contribution of trade to sustainable development will have positive effects on building productive capacities and employment.

She went on to address concerns regarding trade in services in Colombia.

“There is a lack of incentives and adequate policies to promote the services sector, and the coordination among the relevant actors in Colombia is insufficient,” she said.

“Colombia needs to improve the coordination with the private and public sectors and ensure the coherence of trade agreements with other policies. The country should create new strategies to promote innovation in services as well as improve human capital in professional services,” she added.

The third session of the day was delivered by Hamed El-Kady, of UNCTAD's Division on Investment and Enterprise. He presented the international setting of investment rules and the kind of reform needed in order to improve rulemaking.

“There is an absence of a global body administering the international investment process and the rulemaking lacks system-wide coordination,” he explained.

There are a total of 3,196 signed international investment agreements (IIAs) but the number of newly signed agreements continues to decline and is paralleled by an increase in investor-State disputes (ISDS). At least 42 new cases were initiated in 2014 and the total number of known treaty based cases reached 608 by 2014.

“More and more States are expressing discontent with aspects of today's ISDS system, such as contradictory interpretations of key provisions of the agreements or lack of transparency.

“A variety of suggestions for reform are emerging. However, what is missing is a systematic assessment of individual reform options and a multilateral policy dialogue about the preferred course of action,” El-Kady said.

 The study visit concluded with a guided tour of the Palais des Nations.