29 October 2008
Dr. Emmanuel Angeles, Chairman of the Board of Regents, Excellencies,
I am deeply honoured to receive an honorary doctorate from this great institution of learning. I know that, through me, you are also paying tribute to the United Nations. Thank you for this recognition.
The University of Philippines has a long history of excellence. Many talented men and women have emerged through your gates to make their mark on the world.
One such individual was the late Carlos P. Romulo. He led the Philippine Delegation to the San Francisco conference in 1945 that established the United Nations. He later went on to serve as President of the fourth session of the UN General Assembly.
Mr. Romulo was also one of the signatories to the Bretton Woods treaty that established the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
The world had just been through a long and devastating war that left terrible scars, including here in the Philippines. Even the effects of the Great Depression were still being felt. The Bretton Woods institutions were designed to respond to the economic crises of the time, and to help set the world back on a path of stability and growth.
They succeeded in that effort. But more than six decades later, global finance has changed beyond recognition.
The world economy has become much more complex.
Deregulation, privatization and liberalization have made countries more interdependent.
Developing countries represent a much larger share of world economic activity than they did when the Bretton Woods system was founded. As a group, they are now net creditors to the global economic system.
The current financial turmoil and the prospect of global economic slowdown put in sharp relief the shortcomings of the international system in providing improved living standards, stable and decent work, and food security.
Global economic governance as it is currently fashioned has been unable to cope with the more intricate interdependence that has emerged. The rise of new economic powers has also underscored another fundamental issue: the lack of a voice for these new players in global economic decision-making.
In the weeks ahead, world leaders will gather for a meeting of the G-20 and for the Doha conference on Financing for Development. Every thing from aid and debt to systemic reforms will be discussed.
At the first financing for development conference six years ago, agreement on the Monterrey Consensus appeared to represent a major step forward for multilateralism. Rich and poor countries came together and agreed that development is a shared responsibility.
Yet we have encountered significant obstacles in meeting the Monterrey commitments. And current circumstances have brought us to a new multilateral moment. Our institutions need to be reinvented. Our times demand a new multilateralism – a more inclusive and effective multilateralism. Devastating as it is, today's turbulence has created an opportunity for reform.
I am urging all Governments to participate actively in the reform process. I suspect that you, the faculty and students of this great university, are already debating the matter. The world needs to hear from you, too.
But, Ladies and Gentlemen, rethinking our global financial architecture will take time.
My most immediate concern is that the financial crisis could reverse the progress made around the world in fighting poverty, and eclipse the global effort to address climate change.
Developing nations face the same pressures as the United States and Europe. Yet many lack the resources to rescue their financial institutions or withstand runs on their banks.
The danger is a succession of cascading financial crises.
A global economic slowdown will lead to higher unemployment.
Governments will have less revenue to spend on social services and assistance to the poor. Some may even struggle to keep commitments made to provide development assistance. This will threaten global efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals.
Many people who have struggled so hard to rise out of poverty, could be forced back into destitution. There could be new ranks of poor people, as the prospect of unemployment rises sharply.
I am determined to see that this does not happen.
In the urgency of the moment, we cannot neglect those who are most vulnerable.
In this time of global crisis, in the face of global threats, we must act in global solidarity.
The United Nations will continue reminding all countries of their commitments to the MDGs. It is our job to remain a constant, insistent and loud voice in defence of the voiceless and the marginalized.
And let us be clear: the food crisis is also still with us. The Philippines is one of the world's largest importers of rice. You know as well as anyone what it means to pay higher prices, and the difficulties this is causing.
High food prices are only the most visible symptom of an agricultural system that is not working. We have seen many years of failed agricultural policies. In Africa, agricultural productivity remains very low. Years of international interventions and local efforts have not managed to change this.
A new initiative from the United Nations World Food Programme holds considerable promise. In the past, WFP purchased food on the international markets. But under the new system, WFP will enter into multi-year contracts with small farmers to supply the required foods.
Multi-year contracts, lasting up to three years long, will give farmers some income security. This will enable them to plan ahead. A steady income stream means farmers can afford fertilizers and better seed varieties, and adopt modern farming techniques.
This will encourage investment in land for long-term use. This will reduce land degradation, and increase agricultural productivity. Slowly but surely, farmers will move from aid dependency to income security, breaking the cycle of rural poverty.
This is only a first step in the recovery of rural economies. Many other measures are required: improved market access, better transport, a truly fair and open trading system in agricultural products.
The challenge is too large for any one country, or any one organization. That is why the United Nations is building an alliance with governments and non-governmental organizations, businesses and philanthropists. Together we hope to transform rural economies and put an end to mass hunger.
We need more such fresh thinking, on agriculture and on development in general. We need new models that will work in the Philippines, and that can help other countries come up with their own models. This university is well placed to contribute ideas. Help us make this happen.
These multiple crises – food, finance, energy, climate and development – require us to take international cooperation to new levels. Regional organizations have a vital role to play, as envisaged in the United Nations Charter.
In your region, the Association of South East Asian Nations has made important progress, further to its “vision 2020” statement. Countries in the ASEAN region accounted for $1.2 trillion in international trade in 2005. Twenty-five percent of this commerce took place with other ASEAN countries. Economic activity within ASEAN has clear potential to contribute significantly to a global economic recovery.
The United Nations has close ties with ASEAN. Last year, I was pleased to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Secretary-General of ASEAN aimed at strengthening our partnership. The Philippines, as the ASEAN Chair in Office, played an important role.
Our cooperation proved vital in responding to Cyclone Nargis. Indeed, our joint humanitarian efforts provided the critical platform for forging trust and confidence between Myanmar and the international community. As a result, we were able to mount a credible and effective international humanitarian relief effort.
Let us build on this experience. Whether dealing with a financial crisis, as ASEAN member did a decade ago, or promoting peace and development, there is room for ASEAN and the United Nations to be even stronger partners towards the goals we share and hold dear.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I hope you will not be daunted by the perils of our present passage. The challenges we face are our own creation. As such, we can solve them.
But we will rise together only if we work together. Our challenges are increasingly those of collaboration rather than confrontation.
The United Nations will rely on its partners, including distinguished institutions such as this one. I have no doubt that more men and women of distinction emerge from this university with the global outlook, and global skills, needed to confront global threats and set the stage for a new era of global prosperity.
Thank you very much.
MABUHAY ANG PILIPINAS! [Long live the Philippines!]