The increasing globalization of the world economy makes knowledge a crucial factor for social and economic development. The meeting therefore underlined the need for developing countries to have access to and to produce the knowledge that would allow them, among other things, to formulate and implement home-grown economic policies and to make decisions that reflect and serve their national interests and priorities. This would help them maximize opportunities and benefits that they can derive from globalization. It was recognized that building such capacities so that a country has a critical mass of qualified decision-makers is a long-term process that can only be achieved through a systematic effort over time.
The contributions from panellists and delegations stressed the need to integrate the building of such skills in trade and development into regular educational activities - in particular graduate and post-graduate programmes and research at universities. Universities play a key role in building knowledge and expertise in all areas of economic and political life by educating future and current decision makers, by providing expertise to governments on issues relating to national economic policies and by increasing awareness of trade, investment and its contribution to wider development goals. This knowledge and expertise should be built through working with other stakeholders and civil society actors.
Programmes and research conducted by universities have to recognize the multidisciplinary nature of international trade, investment and development issues and treat them in an integrated manner. An important point raised during the meeting was that such endeavours should draw on existing local knowledge and expertise and expand it by adapting knowledge acquired from other countries to local conditions and needs so that the training programmes are relevant and up-to-date.
Recent advances in information and communication technologies can facilitate the process of capacity development through providing access to a wider range of sources of information and educational programmes, and facilitating international contacts and discussions with individuals and institutions in other countries. In particular Internet-facilitated networks have the potential to be used as an empowering tool of capacity development due to their participatory and demand-driven nature. In this regard, a special emphasis was put at the meeting on the promotion of cultural diversity and the related need for the creation of local content and its sharing among developed and developing countries.
The development of capacities in developing countries at the individual, institutional and societal level has become both a major focus and a major challenge of technical cooperation activities. In order to increase their impact, countries need to take the responsibility and ownership of this process and to set their own priorities in this area so as to shift from a one-way transfer of knowledge to more purposeful interactive knowledge acquisition and to localize international knowledge so as it is appropriate for the country concerned. Technical assistance programmes need to foster South-South discussion and to accept that this process requires long-term commitment to capacity development.
It was noted that UNCTAD has a key role to play in the building of national capacities for economic policy making. Since it was established 40 years ago it has been a unique think tank on trade and development and it has also delivered successful programmes aiming to support the building of local capacities for trade and development. The effectiveness of UNCTAD´s analytical work can further benefit from an active integration of its results into countries´ own training, research and education programmes, which will transform this work into an effective development tool. In this context and at the end of the session, the Secretary-General of UNCTAD officially launched the UNCTAD Virtual Institute on Trade and Development that is designed to become the main instrument of a systematic cooperation between UNCTAD and academic institutions in member countries.
The Institute aims to assist these institutions, particularly in developing countries, to enhance their capacity to design and deliver high quality courses and to conduct research in the areas of trade and development. It does so firstly by giving them access on the Institute's website to selected UNCTAD substantive resources and by providing guidance on how the material could be used to support independent training and educational activities. Secondly, it offers qualified academic institutions the possibility to become members of the UNCTAD Virtual Institute Network and as such to enhance their curricula and research work by exchanging and adapting resources (course materials and research) and experiences with other members and by strengthening their cooperation with UNCTAD. Due to its focus on capacity development for decision-making, particularly in the area of policy, the Institute would also help strengthen the link between academia and the governments in member countries.
The delegations welcomed and expressed their support for the creation of the UNCTAD Virtual Institute, which they considered a useful contribution to their efforts for the development of home-grown decision-making capacities and for strengthening teaching and research in their countries. They felt that by assisting academic institutions in building trade, investment and development-related education into their regular curricula, the Institute would contribute to and increase the long-term impact of UNCTAD's work on capacity development in member countries.