UN Talks on Migration Compact Prepare to Kick Off, Including on Role of Trade

15 February 2018

Intergovernmental efforts to craft a “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration” are now moving into the negotiation stage, with the release of a “zero draft” last week and the first round of talks set for 20-23 February in New York. The round is one of six scheduled ahead of a summit planned for December 2018 in Morocco to adopt the final text. 

The zero draft, which is meant to serve as a starting point for the formal negotiations, was prepared by the two co-facilitators of this process, Juan José Gómez Camacho and Jürg Lauber, following a consultative process. These officials are the Mexican and Swiss ambassadors to the United Nations, respectively.

The formal impetus for this global compact dates back to 2016, when governments signed off on the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. A separate global compact is also being crafted on refugees.

The 25-page zero draft is split into various sections: a preamble, vision and guiding principles, cooperative framework and objectives, and actionable commitments. The commitments are designed to meet those 22 objectives.

The commitments include references to the role of trade preferences and trade agreements in this context. That section also refers to a host of other issues, such as financial and social inclusion; the creation of incentives to give people greater options in their origin countries; the protection of migrant workers and provision of decent working conditions, and the importance in supporting skills development and recognition, among others.

The zero draft outlines among its guiding principles the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by world governments in late 2015. It also refers to international cooperation and a gender-responsive, child-sensitive approach, while also respecting rule of law, due process, and national sovereignty.

“This Global Compact offers a 360-degree vision of international migration and recognises that a comprehensive approach is needed to optimise the overall benefits of migration while addressing risks and challenges for individuals and communities associated with it,” it says.

There are also multiple references to sustainable development as a driving force behind the document, including in the section on its objectives, which refers to establishing “conditions for migrants and diasporas to fully contribute to sustainable development in all countries.”

Trade, financial inclusion

The document includes some references to the role of trade deals and trade preferences in facilitating the participation of migrant workers in different labour markets and ensuring they can have access to entitlements such as insurance or pensions.

For example, objective 22 on making social security entitlements and earned benefits portable suggests that trade agreements could include provisions on the subject. This is framed as one potential approach, with that same paragraph suggesting that these provisions could also feature in social security agreements between countries, or in deals relating to both temporary and more permanent migration.

Objective 18, which focuses on skills development, calls for countries to ink “mutual recognition agreements” at the bilateral or multilateral level, “or include recognition provisions in broader labour mobility or trade agreements in order to provide equivalence in national systems, such as automatic or managed mutual recognition mechanisms.”

Earlier in the zero draft, the document refers to the role that trade preferences, along with private and foreign direct investment, could have in creating better conditions in migrants’ home countries so that they are not compelled to seek other opportunities abroad. This is included in a subparagraph for Objective 2.

The debate over how to address the particular situation of migrants has grown in intensity in recent years, particularly given the rapid increase of migrants to Europe, as well as the parallel and at times intersecting debate on the wider subject of globalisation, labour mobility, trade, and investment.

While trade references are limited in the current zero draft document, there are also references to other financial aspects related to migrants, including the need to ensure “faster, safer, and cheaper transfer of remittances” and a series of suggested commitments to meet that goal. Remittances are funds that workers living overseas send back to their home country, such as to help support family members. 

An April 2017 World Bank report found that remittances the year prior hit about US$429 billion. Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggests that these remittances can often be the top source of external financing for many developing economies, surpassing foreign inflows of investment or traditional foreign aid. 

Looking ahead

After next week’s meetings, the next negotiating rounds will be held in March, April, May, June, and July, according to a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in April 2017. The compact is meant to be non-binding, and will not include participation from the United States, which confirmed some months ago that it would not be part of the process, arguing that the compact’s policy goals would conflict with US national priorities.

How to ensure a robust follow-up and review mechanism and how to translate this international momentum into action, given the non-binding nature of the agreement and differing national circumstances, will also be a question for stakeholders – along with how the provisions outlined in the zero draft may be revised in the negotiating process.

The zero draft has sections on implementation as well as follow-up and review. On the former, it calls for “concerted efforts at global, regional, national, and subnational levels, including a coherent United Nations system,” along with setting up a “capacity-building mechanism” with governmental, intergovernmental, private sector, and other stakeholder involvement. It also highlights the UN Secretary-General’s role in making sure that the UN system can facilitate this implementation appropriately, while suggesting that implementation will also require involvement from cities, communities, and others.

On follow-up and review, it would repurpose an existing high-level dialogue under the auspices of the UN General Assembly. This would meet every four years as the International Migration Review Forum, with “progress declarations” and a particular focus at the 2026 meeting on “specific measures that will further strengthen the global governance of international migration.” It also envisions setting up region-specific forums, which would also meet every four years, starting in 2020.

ICTSD reporting.

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