Precautionary principle: UNCTAD’s quadrennial conference postponed amid COVID-19 rebound

11 December 2020

UNCTAD Secretary-General and Barbados Prime Minister committed to an in-person meeting of nations in October 2021 in Bridgetown for UNCTAD15.

UNCTAD’s 15th quadrennial ministerial conference (UNCTAD15) has been postponed to later in 2021. The conference will now take place in Bridgetown, Barbados from Sunday 3 October through to Friday 8 October 2021, with pre-events starting on Friday 1 October.

The new dates were announced by UNCTAD Secretary-General, Mukhisa Kituyi, and Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Amor Mottley, in an online event organized on 11 December.

After evaluation of the ongoing global uncertainty and challenges linked to the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Kituyi and Prime Minister Mottley explained that the postponement was the appropriate decision to protect the health and safety of both Barbadians and conference participants.

“We jointly agree that we are unable to proceed at this time with the organization of the UNCTAD15 ministerial conference in April 2021, as earlier communicated,” Dr. Kituyi said.

Ms. Mottley said: “We all accept that for UNCTAD15 to be successful, the conference must have strong levels of in-person attendance in Barbados, and equally strong policy proposals that would form the basis for deliberation and action by our ministers.”

Official preparations began earlier this year on 5 August when UNCTAD and Barbados officially signed the host country agreement. The delay to later in the year will not dampen the drive to deliver the conference, they confirmed.

“As the host country, my government does not wish to put at risk the momentum that has been generated thus far by the preparatory process in Barbados, nor the excellent ideas produced by our lead organizers for the six forums which we have planned as the major side events,” Ms. Mottley said, adding that it was however impossible to plan effectively in an environment of uncertainty.

“The new dates selected are in a timeframe that we can reasonably expect to be COVID-safe, based on the best available expert projections for the uptake of vaccines over the coming months.”

Dr. Kituyi reconfirmed UNCTAD’s commitment to work with all stakeholders to ensure that preparations for the conference continue as smoothly and safely as possible.

UNCTAD15 will be among the first major in-person conferences to take place in a post-coronavirus pandemic context. It comes at a critical time as the world seeks solutions to manage the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Under the theme, “From inequality and vulnerability to prosperity for all”, UNCTAD15 will focus the attention of nation-states, non-governmental and civil society organizations, academics, and youth on what is needed to advance the sustainable development agenda while combining global efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 crisis provides us with an unprecedented opportunity, through bold and decisive leadership, to make UNCTAD15 a transformational event with transformational outcomes,” said Ms. Mottley.

“Indeed, I truly believe that the moment is now for UNCTAD, with its unique history in support of developing countries, to step up to take its place at the forefront of new and serious efforts to rethink the development paradigm.”

UNCTAD15 will mobilize governments, civil society organizations, and businesses to address trade, finance, investment and technology needs developing countries struggling to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

The quadrennial conference is the highest decision-making body of UNCTAD. It sets the organization’s work priorities for the next four years.

More on previous UNCTAD quadrennial conferences.

  • Read UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi's statement.
  • Read Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley's statement.