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The magic of solidarity

By Ioan Voicu - posted Monday, 23 June 2014

Geneva is holding celebrations to mark the birth of our modern era of international cooperation, which happened exactly 50 years ago with the launch of the United Nations Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

UNCTAD, with 194 member countries, is tasked with helping states to maximise their development, particularly through international trade - the main driver of development. A central goal is to assist developing countries in their "efforts to integrate into the world economy on an equitable basis".

Half a century ago at the first session of UNCTAD, developing countries established the Group of 77, now expanded to 133 members including Thailand, and demanded with tenacity "prosperity for all".


I had the privilege of attending the "birth" of the organisation and witnessing a unique event in the history of multilateral diplomacy.

The three months of UNCTAD I meetings in 1964 revealed what could be called the magic of solidarity of developing countries.

On March 23, 1964, then-UN chief U Thant set the tone with an opening declaration that international relations are not determined solely by diplomacy backed by military might, but are also influenced by people in the fields and in the factories where human beings earn their daily bread.

Asian countries were eager to adopt that humanitarian vision. "A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step," the Afghan delegate said, symbolically marking an end to the era of trade dictatorship and the dawning of the age of "economic understanding".

The Malaysians chimed in, vowing that Asian countries were in Geneva not just to further the isolated interests of one group of countries against another. At stake was whether Asian countries could demonstrate the moral solidarity and the political will to confront and destroy the ancient scourges of mankind - poverty, hunger, disease and ignorance.

Speaking on behalf of Latin America, the Colombian delegate expressed the foundational principles of UNCTAD: justice, deep solidarity and a general resolve to work untiringly in order that underdevelopment should at last cease to be the tragic lot of the vast majority of human beings.


Those sentiments were echoed as, one by one, delegations from developing states all over the globe stood up and vowed their commitment to forging solidarity and understanding between regional neighbours and the wider world.

Some developed countries recognised the value of solidarity in the struggle to make UNCTAD I objectives tangible.

Germany and Norway hailed a new approach to world trade, emphasising the need to do more than merely clear away the obstructions to a free international exchange of goods and services.

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This article was first published in The Nation.

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About the Author

Dr Ioan Voicu is a Visiting Professor at Assumption University in Bangkok

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