The first meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 1964 marked a turning point in relations between poor and rich countries. As we approach the second conference, now scheduled to convene in New Delhi early in 1968, it is fitting to assess the impact of UNCTAD on thought and policy with respect to the trade problems of the low-income countries.
The first UNCTAD dramatized a salient fact about the development process- namely, that the sluggish increase in the poorer countries' capacity to import had become a principal constraint on their economic growth. But the conference went far beyond a diagnosis of the problem and gave expression to some basic policy implications and prescriptions, mainly in the form of measures to be adopted by the advanced countries to increase the foreign- exchange receipts of the less developed countries. Furthermore, the conference set up institutional machinery designed to exert continuous pressure on the rich countries to find ways of meeting the needs of the poorer countries.
Today, not quite three years after the conclusion of the 1964 conference, the policies of the rich countries are being subjected to a steady pounding in a formidable array of international organizations operating under the aegis of UNCTAD: the conference itself which is a plenary body of more than 120 countries; a 55-nation Trade and Development Board which acts as an executive organ between meetings of the conference; and numerous more specialized committees, subcommittees, working parties and expert groups, all serviced by a permanent secretariat of several hundred people. In 1966 scarcely a week went by when one of these UNCTAD bodies was not in session.
Talk is cheap. And one can well understand the frustration reflected in a recent statement by U Thant, Secretary-General of the United Nations, when he lamented "the slow rate of progress on virtually every recommendation of the first UNCTAD Conference, even those adopted unanimously."[i]
At the same time it would be a mistake to underestimate the cumulative force of the
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