Sat | Jun 3, 2023

Elizabeth Morgan | The outcome of UNCTAD XV: another step towards global transformation

Published:Wednesday | October 13, 2021 | 12:10 AM
Mia Mottley, Barbados prime minister.
Mia Mottley, Barbados prime minister.

UNCTAD XV, held in a hybrid format, in-person and virtually, between Barbados and Geneva, Switzerland, had its closing session on Thursday, October 7. I think a little time should be spent on the outcome as it was a significant event for Barbados and its CARICOM partners.

There are several documents adopted by the conference which are available at the UNCTAD XV website. These include:

• The political declaration – the Spirit of Speightstown (Speightstown is the second largest urban area in Barbados).

• The Bridgetown Covenant – which sets out the quadrennial work programme for UNCTAD aiming to revitalize and strengthen the organization.

• The Ministerial Declaration of the group of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) outlining their priorities.

• The Barbados Accord from the Creative Economy and Digitalization Forum.

During this conference with its theme, ‘From inequality and vulnerability to prosperity for all’, Prime Minister Mia Mottley and other CARICOM representatives took the opportunity to focus on the issues which confront the region as SIDS.

In the Spirit of Speightstown, the UNCTAD member states, setting out their concerns and objectives, start by declaring “we are at an inflection point in the history of the planet, catalysed by unprecedented crises, stemming from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic that still rages, particularly in developing countries, along with the looming peril of the climate crisis”. It speaks to the crisis of the common good, arising from our interconnectedness, which challenges us to work together across borders of faith, culture and nationality to arrive at a shared moral vision, grounded in respect for human rights. It recognises the need for a revitalised covenant for development. Global institutions, therefore, have to pursue policies that benefit our common humanity, thus requiring enhanced international cooperation.

The Spirit of Sprieghtstown further points out that COVID-19 unearthed and accentuated existing vulnerabilities and weaknesses that need to be addressed through a revitalised covenant to development which will take us on a new path to a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable world. The UNCTAD member states, therefore, urge that the following priorities be addressed as a matter of urgency: revitalised multilateralism; inequality within and between countries; vulnerabilities of developing countries including SIDS; financing sustainable development; decision-making and participation in international institutions; tax cooperation, and the digital divide.

This declaration concludes by calling on all peoples and their governments to join in the struggle against global insecurity, noting that the future will be anchored in transformation, such as outlined in the Bridgetown Covenant highlighting the important role which UNCTAD must be enabled to play.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley will be president of UNCTAD for the next three years leading to the 60th anniversary of the organisation. She has indicated that UNCTAD will be continuing its work in collaboration with other national, regional and global bodies. Going forward, under her leadership, she wants to see some critical issues addressed. These include scheduling early meetings to specifically examine current issues relating to trade logistics, investments, and creative industries.


The Barbadian prime minister wants to see UNCTAD involved in further research on e-commerce and digital trade; on ‘reconstructing and deconstructing’ inequalities; removing the rigidities in the debt to GDP ratio making available needed fiscal space; greater equity in accessing public goods, such as vaccines; and promoting food and nutrition security. So, Prime Minister Mottley wants to secure tangible results from UNCTAD XV which will benefit the people of Barbados and the other CARICOM member states, as well as the global community in the common interest of humanity.

The UNCTAD Secretary General Rebecca Greenspan was pleased with the conference, which was her first as secretary general. She felt that it was a historic event given the pandemic, that it was held in a SIDS, and had all-female leadership for the first time. The conference was important, too, given recognition that the gaps must be closed and it must be done collectively.

Given the dire circumstances, we do indeed have to continue believing that the transformation can be achieved, if we all cooperate.

We moved at the start of this week to another step on this transformation journey – the UN Conference on Biodiversity which started on Monday.

Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade policy and international politics. Email feedback to