Development and decolonisation: the 1964 UN Conference on Trade and Development and the independence of Papua New Guinea

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The 1964 UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is often presented as a pivotal moment in the post-Second World War relations between the Global North and Global South. At this conference, Australian policymakers devised a Middle Zone policy that sought to present Australia as neither ‘developed’ nor ‘developing’. This had significant consequences for the colonial administration of Papua New Guinea (PNG), which Australia administered as a UN Trust Territory. In the two decades following the Second World War, Australia had administered PNG in a way that promoted gradual development, arguing that the road to independence would be a slow one. By 1964, however, international pressure (exemplified by the call for UNCTAD) had made this policy less viable. This article examines the impact of UNCTAD on the decolonisation of PNG, as it sparked an acceleration of calls for PNG independence in the second half of the 1960s. The Conference also prompted indigenous leaders within PNG to engage with the increasingly diverse field of development in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Local leaders, such as Michael Somare, became increasingly prominent as decolonisation loomed large. Their developmental approaches, informed by other movements within the Global South, steadily became a part of the plan for an independent PNG. UNCTAD can be seen as a starting point for this process. By examining the connections between the 1964 UNCTAD and the decolonisation of PNG, this paper adds a new dimension to the scholarship of the Conference as well as the process of decolonisation in the Pacific.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-180
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Australia
  • decolonisation
  • Development
  • Papua New Guinea
  • unctad

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