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Trade organization shuttered after 22 years

An international organization created to advance sustainable development through trade policy is shutting down after 22 years due to financial difficulties.

GENEVA (AN) — An international organization created to advance sustainable development through trade policy is shutting down after 22 years due to financial difficulties, days after it was cited for suspected misuse of funds in a British government report.

The Geneva-based International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development, or ICTSD, which was founded in 1996, said it was closing down immediately.

"It is with sadness that we must announce that due to an untenable financial situation ICTSD will cease operations in its current form," the organization's chief executive, Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz, wrote on its website. He did not provide more specifics.

ICTSD has operated with offices in Geneva, Brussels and Beijing and editorial teams in São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Ottawa, Moscow, Dakar, and Shanghai.

The announcement came just several days after Denmark's foreign ministry received notice from a technical division that the organization was under "suspicion of misuse of donor funds" based on a British government report circulating among major donors.

Denmark had donated more than US$750,000 a year to the organization in 2017 and 2018, and the report by the U.K.'s Department for International Development identified "failing governance mechanisms, poor financial management and insufficient value for money," according to a Danish technical consultant.

The report, also shared with the Netherlands and Sweden, found "irregularities, which could constitute corruption in the form of nepotism, embezzlement, and corruption in the execution of contracts," wrote Asger Graae, a senior consultant.

The Danish share of the money under suspicion came to about US$28,000, according to Graae, who said the U.K. report also cited "several examples of breach of internal policies, e.g. travel policies and procurement of contracts."

A leading voice in a 'post-truth world'

Meléndez-Ortiz said his organization was particularly grateful to its core supporters — the foreign ministries of Denmark and the Netherlands and the development agencies of Sweden and Britain — and partners at other governments, organizations, think tanks, universities and private firms.

"We have been a leading voice in setting the agenda on trade’s role in support of social inclusion, nature and development, and building a community of change around this mission," he said.

ICTSD was founded to address the "characteristic crippling asymmetry of information and capabilities" among those making trade policies, he added, and to support sustainable development goals.

Its published research on trade policy developments were "urgently needed in the new post-truth world," said Jodie Keane, a trade adviser for the 53-country Commonwealth of Nations' London-based secretariat.

Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz, a Geneva-based economist, said ICTSD was unique because it filled "a gap in the trade discourse by taking a broader view on trade issues and providing knowledge to enable better decisions."