XXVIII Session of the Commission - First phase

First of all, may I say how grateful we are to our hosts, the Government of Mexico, and its dynamic Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rosario Green, for their warm and gracious welcome. Over the years, we have had many occasions to experience and appreciate the generosity and hospitality of the Government and people of Mexico. It should be recalled, moreover, that it was here in Mexico, at the fourth session of the new ECLA in May 1951, that the Governments of our region decided that the Commission, established in 1948 for a three-year period, should become a permanent body with a wider mandate. It was a vote of confidence in the Commission's capacity ? already demonstrated in those early years ? and on its potential to become an instrument of excellence for reflecting on the state of the region and contributing to direct its future course of development.

It is interesting to recall the issues that were of concern at that time. I will mention just a few, as reflected in the work programme adopted for that session: an analysis of recent economic trends; international trade; studies on the experiences of economic development of the different countries and industrial development. In addition, the Commission was mandated to give support to the Committee on Central American Economic Cooperation.

Subsequently, Mexico welcomed us in 1965, for the eleventh session of the Commission; in 1986, at the twenty-first session; and again in 1987, for the Special Conference of ECLAC. Here, we have held many other intergovernmental meetings, on population, on the integration of women and on sustainable development, to name a few. We can say that in Mexico, we feel very much at home and, for this, we are very grateful.

From its inception, ECLAC has always strived to combine academic excellence and the activities of cooperation for development, maintaining a spirit of continuity and change ? continuity in terms of viewing development as an integrated process; change, in terms of incorporating visions and emerging themes at each stage. So much so, that the spheres have been expanding steadily. Today, our focus is on social equity, globalization and changing production patterns, without, however, overlooking the legacies of the past in the area of economic integration or industrial promotion. Our perspective has become more complex but we have maintained the basic impetus which links us to the past.

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The current session coincides with the start of new decade. At the beginning of the 1990s, we launched the proposal on "Changing production patterns with social equity"; on this occasion we have prepared a report entitled "Social equity, development and citizenship", three words which sum up, succinctly, the complex challenges facing our region in today's world. As we know, it is a world dominated by globalization, which, while not a new trend, has taken on new dimensions, representing, in many cases, qualitative transformations in comparison with the past. Undoubtedly, this process creates opportunities, provided that one accepts the demands imposed by greater incorporation into the world economy; however, it also carries risks, associated with the imperfect globalization of markets, an incomplete international agenda and grave problems at the level of global economic governance. Lastly, this trend has obvious shortcomings, which reflect the still inadequate impact of what we refer to in this document as the globalization of values, that is, the spread of principles enshrined in the world agreements and summits, particularly human rights, social development, gender equity, respect for ethnic and cultural identity and environmental protection.

In assessing the legacy of the 1990s, the document points to major advances, in terms of correcting fiscal imbalances, reducing inflation, accelerating the growth in exports, reinforcing regional integration, strengthening institution-building at the macro-economic level, regulatory advances on other fronts, an increase in government social spending and a decline in relative poverty levels, albeit without recovering the levels recorded prior to the debt crisis. On the negative side, we note with concern that economic growth and the rise in productivity have been insufficient, that the labour market has deteriorated in many countries in the region and that other adverse forces have come into play against the background of a long-term trend towards a worsening of patterns of distribution.

The central thrust of the document entitled "Social equity, development and citizenship" is the need to redirect regional development patterns along one fundamental line: achieving social equity, that is, reducing inequality in all its multiple manifestations. This effort should be made within the framework of a simultaneous consolidation of economic development and should be accompanied by initiatives aimed at building social fabric with a view to achieving more integrated societies. In this way, we present a broader, and at the same time, a more complex view of present day concerns, which integrates macroeconomic issues, growth, production policy and sustainable development with overall social policy, based on the principles of universality, solidarity and efficiency and on the pivotal role of education and employment as the "master keys" to development, as the report puts it. Moreover, we are convinced that this construction is only possible in the context of democratic societies with a highly developed sense of citizenship. This translates, in terms of contemporary debate, the idea which is the cornerstone of our thinking: the development process viewed as an integrated process.

This is a very brief outline of the substantive issues that we will have to tackle in the next few days. I will present the substantive document in greater detail in the next meeting.

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Next, I should like to refer to the programmes and institutional aspects of our agenda. Tomorrow, you will have the opportunity to listen to a detailed account of the activities conducted during the past biennium and will have before you the proposed programme of work for the biennium 2002-2003. So, I will mention just a few points relating specifically to modernization of our institutional management. As pointed out in the medium-term plan, our broader objective is to promote economic and social development in Latin America and the Caribbean, through interactive cooperation with countries. To this end, we have been adopting measures aimed at forging a more efficient, more effective organization, characterized by more transparent management, greater decentralization for decision-making and greater accountability. Our aim here is to simplify and modernize operations and to eliminate duplication.

In this sphere, the objective of strengthening links with member countries is extremely important. An initial example of the changes sought through this proposal is the inclusion of wider discussions at sessions. This approach, experimented in Costa Rica and Aruba, will be consolidated with the format adopted for the current session, following President Zedillo´s recommendations. In particular, the ministerial phase includes panels on the main issues I have outlined and in which experts and eminent persons from our region will participate. We feel that a debate of this nature will be enriching for our proposals and will enable us to reinforce the courses of action that we advocate.

In addition, it should be noted that the document presented at the last session period, entitled "The Fiscal Covenant" was the subject of several technical seminars at the national and subregional levels, based on the mandate received on that occasion; the outcome of those forums has enhanced our vision and fostered the exchange of experiences among countries. In the second half of this year, a revised updated version of this document will be published incorporating those inputs.

The results of the Ad Hoc Working Group established pursuant to resolution 553 (XXVI), in which all member countries participated, have also been very encouraging. To date, this group has held five meetings, which have enabled us to have a better insight into and pinpoint more precisely the needs of the region and to set priorities for our next programme of work. Those meetings have also contributed to a more in-depth analysis of aspects of institutional management. You should all have in your possession a copy of the report of the Ad hoc working group, so I will not go into further details on the matter.

In the days immediately preceding this session, a meeting was held in Port of Spain of the eighteenth session of the Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee (CDCC), which marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Committee. This was an occasion to reaffirm the importance of this cooperation mechanism and our commitment to supporting in a decisive way the islands of the Caribbean and to fully integrate analyses on this subregion in our documents. A clear sign, in this regard, appears in the document for the current session, which contains a chapter on the challenges facing small countries; at the same time, we will be distributing another document on the special problems confronting small-island developing States, which served as a basis for the preparation of that chapter.

In February, the eighth session of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean was held in Lima; its deliberations will serve as a basis for a regional position for presentation at the Special Session of the General Assembly entitled: " Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century". A more detailed account on that Conference will be presented later to participants. It should be added that representatives of the Regional Conference will be participating in our deliberations, in what we hope will develop into a tradition.

Another major intergovernmental meeting for ECLAC is also scheduled to be held in Chile in May: the Regional Conference in Follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development. This will continue our work of providing a regular follow-up to the United Nations world conferences, which also included in 1999, the Special Session of the General Assembly on the Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, five years after its adoption.

The Latin American and Caribbean Institute for Economic and Social Planning (ILPES) has continued to support the Regional Council for Planning, whose Presiding Officers met last month in Montevideo and reiterated their support for the Institute's activities.

We have also maintained constant contact with other intergovernmental forums in various sectors, especially the meeting of ministers of the environment, mining and energy, transport, housing and urban development and have carried out various activities with many other intergovernmental organizations and, in the case of mining and energy, with inter-parliamentary bodies. As part of the Tripartite Committee, which also includes the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Organization of American States (OAS), ECLAC has provided support in the negotiations for the establishment of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Recently, the Commission signed a technical support agreement with the Permanent Mechanism for Consultation and Policy Coordination (Rio Group) and we have also participated actively, when invited, in the Ibero-American summits and other meetings of heads of State. While many of these activities are not new, improvements and specializations have been introduced and a very wide range of issues are now covered, in response to requests from member countries.

It would be remiss of me to overlook the special initiative taken, with our support, by the Government of Mexico, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in holding here in Mexico City, in September 1999, the Regional High-level Meeting on the theme "Towards a stable and predictable international financial system and its linkages with social development". The conclusions of that meeting were presented to the Secretary General and the United Nations General Assembly and used as inputs for the Assembly's deliberations and its decision to convene a global meeting on Financing for Development in 2001. Following precisely the recommendations of the Regional Meeting held in Mexico, in the sense of carrying out prior regional meetings, I am pleased to advise that the Government of Colombia has expressed an interest in holding, by the end of the year, our regional preparatory meeting.

We have also strengthened our cooperation with other bodies in the United Nations system. In compliance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1998/46 in May 1999 the Deputy Secretary-General of the Organization convened a meeting at ECLAC headquarters to promote a better use of resources of the bodies, programmes and specialized agencies of the United Nations system which conduct activities in the region and to improve the services provided to countries. At that meeting, coordination mechanisms were established and priority areas identified for the common work: social equity and governance, linkages with the global economy, environment and mobilization of resources for development. This meeting marks the start of a new phase in regional coordination, which has served to intensify the joint activities conducted with other bodies in the system, especially with the United Nations Developmetn Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Interaction with bodies at United Nations Headquarters has also been strengthened. ECLAC participates in a number of forums, but I should like to mention, in particular, the Executive Committee on Economic and Social Affairs, in which I headed the Working group set up to prepare the report " Towards a new international financial architecture", which reflects the joint position of the United Nations Secretariat in the economic and social spheres on a pressing issue at this time. Currently, we are also collaborating actively on the preparation of a similar report on the social dimensions of macroeconomic policy, which we hope to see adopted by the above-mentioned Committee in the coming month.

At the inter-regional level, concrete steps have been taken to increase collaboration between the different regional commissions. This collaboration includes the active participation in international forums organized by the United Nations system, with a view to presenting the relevant regional perspectives. The most recent event of this kind was held in Bangkok during the tenth session of UNCTAD. On that occasion, we also held, at the headquarters of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), a joint seminar on trade and investment between Asia and Latin America. Moreover, many possible areas for cooperation have been identified, transport being one of the areas in which work has already been started.

Stronger ties have also been developed with other intergovernmental organizations not within the United Nations system. In this respect, special mention should be made of the close cooperation being maintained with IDB in several fields.

With respect to internal institutional matters, I should like to underscore, firstly, the successful incorporation of the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Centre (CELADE) as the Population Division of ECLAC. Its integration as part of the Commission has made it possible to strengthen its activities, pursuing its research into the demographic situation in the region, updating studies on population and development and providing technical cooperation to countries for the conduct of the census.

In order to provide a proper framework for our work in these areas, the Commission created the Environment and Human Settlements Division. This entailed restructuring the division to which it had formerly belonged and establishing the Natural Resources, Energy and Infrastructure Division, whose work focuses on the study of energy sources, water, mineral resources, transport and infrastructure in general.

In response to the request formulated at the session held in 1998, over the past two years we have strengthened integration and cooperation between ILPES and ECLAC. ILPES has been consolidating its position as the agency in charge of training within the ECLAC system by expanding the array of international, national and community courses that it offers as part of a joint effort with the various divisions of ECLAC and a growing number of outside institutions. It has also begun to incorporate distance learning into its spectrum of teaching tools through the use of modern information and communications technologies. Its main areas of work will be planning, as defined in the modern sense of the word to mean a set of functions for the analysis, exploration, coordination and evaluation of public investment and management, on the one hand, and of regional and local development, on the other.

I would also like to refer to the importance that we attribute to the establishment of closer links between ECLAC and its subregional headquarters and country offices; the steps taken in this direction have paved the way for a more abundant flow of information and the increased involvement of these subregional headquarters and country offices in the flagship documents published by ECLAC each year and in a series of more detailed studies. Some coordination activities have been transferred to the offices; in particular, the work on disaster response capabilities has been transferred to the subregional headquarters in Mexico, and the coordination of FTAA is now the responsibility of our Washington office.

Finally, I am pleased to report to you that we have mounted a determined effort to improve our distribution network. We have greatly increased our use of outsourcing for the edition and translation of documents and, thanks to this operational adjustment, since 1998 all the flagship publications of ECLAC have been published in English as well as Spanish without increasing the amount of funding required. We have introduced a uniform design for all ECLAC publications that will make them more readily identifiable for users. A great deal of work has also been put in to preparing documents for publication on the World Wide Web, which should also reduce distribution costs. "ECLAC Notes", our new newsletter, has proved to be an invaluable vehicle for dissemination, as evidenced in the response of our readers. Special emphasis has also been placed on joint publications with commercial publishing houses as a means of distributing our studies and reports more extensively. Our Website has been institutionalized and has enabled us to build further upon our relationships with our users. Indeed, electronic data management has triggered a veritable revolution in the technology employed by ECLAC, inasmuch as it has enabled us to increase our distribution at least fivefold. We will elaborate on this when reporting on our activities and our future programme of work.

In addition to our regular resources, our work is enhanced by the extra-budgetary funds we receive from a number of donor countries and institutions which cooperate with ECLAC in several ways. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Governments of Germany and the Netherlands, which provided resources to facilitate the preparation of the substantive document for the current session, over and above the support they regularly provide us.

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Madame Minister, distinguished delegates, colleagues and friends,

I trust that the work of this twenty-eighth session of ECLAC will enable us to continue and to further extend our work in support of the economic and social development of our region. I am confident that the discussions to be held here, half a century after our first meeting in this city, will be as fruitful as they were then, and that you will continue to place your trust in us.