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229 Report by Wilson

, WASHINGTON, 7 July 1948

On the work of the Third Session, 19th April to 6th May, 1948
The Third Session of the Economic and Employment Commission was held at Lake Success, New York, from 19th April to 6th May, 1948. The Commission held 25 meetings.

Australia was represented at the Third Session by Dr. Roland Wilson, who was assisted by Mr. E.J.R. Heyward of the Australian Mission to the United Nations. Mr. Heyward attended the Second Session as Dr. Wilson's Alternate, and his assistance at the Third Session was particularly valuable.

The Australian representative was unanimously elected Chairman, the previous Chairman (Prof. Ragnar Frisch) having resigned from the Commission following the Second Session.

[matter omitted]

The Commission devoted the major part of its time to a consideration of the Reports of its Sub-Commissions on Economic Development and Employment and Economic Stability. Most of this time was spent either in the making of general affirmations of faith by members of the Commission or in seemingly interminable discussions of the actual wording of the Commission's own comments on the Reports. To some extent the Commission did reword the resolution relating to economic development proposed by the Sub-Commission on Economic Development, in an effort to make it somewhat less offensive to lending countries, but it can hardly be claimed that the Commission's observations added very much of value to what was already expressed in the Sub-Commission's Report. Very much the same is true of the Commission's discussion of the Report of the Sub-Commission on Employment and Economic Stability.

It is perhaps inevitable that the work of the Commission, as at present constituted, should have such a negative character. Underlying the whole of its discussions are the basic differences in political ideologies and economic philosophies of East and West, and it is indeed difficult to see how this can be overcome. One must, however reluctantly, be impressed by the feeling that the Soviet group approach their work on the Commission with the main object of getting written into the Report words which either express their political views in as unqualified a form as possible or, if in a minority, in words which, however seemingly innocuous, are capable of being used on a subsequent occasion to support their viewpoint. The countries not under Soviet influence to some extent react to this behaviour in kind. As a result, the discussions tend to become a sort of game into which every member of the Commission, no matter how technically inexpert, may enter with zest.

Apart from this fundamental difficulty there are several other reasons why the Commission has been able to achieve little. At the Third Session there were, for example, only five members out of fifteen who had attended the previous Sessions. Two more members attended for the first time, and the remaining eight were Alternates, most of whom were new to the Commission's work. Many of them were also new to the work of the United Nations, so that they had very little background from which to start.

Moreover, it seems clear that the main part of the Commission's work should not consist of reviewing the reports of its Sub-Commissions. It hardly seems to be necessary to have them reviewed from a general standpoint both in the Commission and in the Economic and Social Council, and in neither place should the process be as protracted as it was on this occasion. As for the particular cases under discussion, the Report on Employment and Economic Stability needed little review, and the Report on Development consisted so largely of generalities that the Commission had little on which to bite. A feeling that more detailed studies should be undertaken, preferably by the Secretariat, is reflected in Part VII, paragraph 11 of the Commission's Report.

Many members of the Commission expressed dissatisfaction, both privately and in public, with its work. There were several informal discussions as to why the Commission appeared to be functioning so badly, and many suggestions for some alterations of procedure or organisation were canvassed. The Australian representative submitted a working paper (E/CN1/W.31) with the object of bringing the matter into the open prior to the next meeting of the Economic and Social Council. Owing to pressure of time there was little substantive discussion on this paper at the formal meetings of the Commission, but this was not its primary object.

One important point mentioned in this working paper is the fact that the Council is depending on the Commission to make recommendations to it about current economic conditions, and also to draw to the Council's attention any economic situation requiring emergency action. The Commission, being unwilling and unable to meet more than once a year, obviously cannot fulfil these functions in the manner originally intended. At the time when the paper was prepared there still seemed reason to hope that the Commission could make some useful contribution, if only by lending international authority to conclusions drawn from long-terms studies of full employment policy. As the Third Session proceeded, however, it became increasingly difficult to justify this hope.

Some members of the Commission, particularly the representatives of France and the U.S.A., thought that the work of the Sub-Commissions was inferior to that of the Commission and that the Sub-Commission should be abolished. It was only with some difficulty that the Australian representative was able to persuade them that such a course would be at least premature. It is even possible that the reverse would be preferable, if no better solution can be found, but it would create awkward constitutional problems. If the Secretary-General persists with his idea of calling together groups of experts to discuss particular problems for any necessary period up to about two months, and then to disband, he may be able to demonstrate that this is a more profitable means of using the expert talent available on the Sub-Commissions.

The working paper was disposed of, as far as the Third Session of the Commission was concerned, by referring it to a second committee established under Rule 19 of the Rules of Procedure of Functional Commissions. It was hoped that the members of this committee could pursue discussions by correspondence between the Third and Fourth Sessions, and meet at the beginning of the Fourth Session to prepare a report.

Subsequent discussions which have taken place among Delegations represented on the Economic and Social Council have revealed a general agreement, following doubts expressed by some countries, to elect replacements for the five positions on the Commission which will become vacant at the end of 1948. There was at first some disposition on the part of a few Delegations to think that the Commission should be liquidated. It is understood that some Delegations now feel that the Economic and Social Council itself, rather than a committee of the Commission, should consider the question of organisation, and a move to bring this about may be made at the next Session of the Council.

[AA : A1838, 701/8/1/3]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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