30 June 2003


Press Release



GENEVA, 30 June (UN Information Service) -- The following is the address given Monday morning, 30 June, by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the opening meeting of the 2003 substantive session of the Economic and Social Council, in Room XIX of the Palais des Nations:

It may not be true that “a rising tide lifts all boats”.  But it is certainly true that, in bad weather, the weakest boats are the most vulnerable.

It is, therefore, bad news for developing countries that, contrary to expectations, the world economy has yet to recover from its slowdown in 2001, which was its largest setback in a decade.  More than 30 developing countries have actually seen their per capita income drop in each of the past two years, and few can now expect to enjoy adequate growth again before the end of 2004.

Moreover, the risk of deflation, the spread of disease, rising unemployment in some countries, overcapacity in several sectors, and lingering geopolitical concerns are combining to undermine confidence, hinder investment and, as ever, make the lives of the poor that much bleaker.

In the face of these threats, our immediate, overriding task must be to stimulate economic growth.  But over the long term, combating poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) require more than that.  We cannot afford to lose sight of the agenda, universally agreed at Doha, Monterrey and Johannesburg, to tackle more fundamental development challenges.

Those conferences defined a new global partnership for development.  They have given us clear strategies for bringing real vigour to the development process and for deploying resources -– domestic and foreign, human and financial, existing and new -- where they can have the greatest impact.  The challenge now is not to decide what to do, but rather, simply, to do it.

But if major strides have been made towards linking financing and development, much remains to be done to make it easier for poor countries to improve their situation through trade.

The programme agreed to in Doha is more than just another round of trade negotiations.  It aims to eliminate the unfair competition faced by farmers and producers in poor countries, and to open developed-country markets to developing-country goods -– especially agricultural products.  It seeks to give poor people better access to life-saving medicines, while preserving the incentives for medical research.  In the broadest sense, it could provide a powerful engine of growth, thus, facilitating the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.

This is a reasonable, achievable set of goals.  Yet, success is by no means assured.  There are only 10 weeks left before the ministerial meeting in Cancún.  Key deadlines have been missed.  The time has come for all parties to show more flexibility, and give priority to the global interest.  It is not too late to avoid a setback for economic development.

Of course, even a successful outcome on trade will not mean that developing countries can manage without aid and debt relief.  This is especially true of the least developed countries.

Galvanizing development and seizing new trading opportunities depends on technologies, transport, capital, and much else.  Developed countries and aid agencies can make an important contribution here, not by doing the heavy lifting  -- that is the responsibility of developing countries themselves -- but by helping to build the infrastructure, develop the human resource base and adopt sound policies.  For poor countries to achieve “take-off”, two doors must open:  the door to markets in the developed world, and the door in developing countries that internal barriers too often keep closed, stifling the entrepreneurial energies of their people.

Fortunately, the long and troubling decline in aid appears to have been halted.  But aid flows are still at the mercy of recession and spending cuts in some key Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) economies.  Moreover, even if the commitments made in Monterrey were to be fulfilled, we will still be far short of what is required for us to meet the Development Goals, $100 billion per year is what is required.  Some very promising proposals -- such as the one put forward by the Chancellor of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown, the International Finance Facility -- is an encouraging proposal, and I think that it has the possibility of improving the quantity and the quality of the assistance.  I urge all donors to keep an open mind and, again, to act on the basis of the interests that are shared by all.

If there is one place where all these concerns come together; where the needs are greatest and the suffering most acute; and which can be called the locus of global poverty, it is the world’s rural areas.

Rural development is rightly the theme of this high-level segment.  In those rural areas live three quarters of the world’s poorest people –- defined as those living on $1 or less per day.  Some 900 million such people draw their meagre livelihoods from agriculture and other rural activities.

They are on the frontlines of drought, desertification, and environmental degradation.

They are the farmers –- women, above all -- whose hard labour is undermined by protectionism, meagre infrastructure and, increasingly, the spread of AIDS.

They are the indigenous peoples, herders, artisans, fisherfolk and others, whose struggles in isolated areas all too seldom capture world attention.

Address the needs of these men, women and children, and we will have real hope of achieving the MDGs.  Empower these resourceful and resilient individuals, and they will show us how to fight poverty and hunger.

Rural development entails more investment in agricultural research and in developing higher yield crops adapted to local conditions.  And it requires efficient water management, resulting in “more crop per drop”.

It involves increasing non-farm income and employment, so that the rural poor are less vulnerable to crop failures and other calamities.

It means secure land tenure and, in some places, land reform.

It means a new green revolution:  more productive farming, more sustainably pursued.

It means focusing on the least developed countries, in accordance with the Brussels Plan of Action, whose progress you will be reviewing for the first time here.

And as I have already stressed, it will require developed countries to allow agricultural products from developing countries to reach their markets, unimpeded by direct or disguised barriers such as subsidies.

All this can happen only with a real commitment to bring rural development back to the centre of the development agenda.  After a sharp decline in support for agriculture and rural development over the past decade, we are now beginning to realize, once again, that they are central to the entire development agenda.  Nowhere will our commitment be put to the test more than in Africa, where food insecurity and AIDS are working in vicious tandem to thwart the continent’s rural development.

As a central United Nations body for development policy and policy coherence, the Economic and Social Council must ensure that the United Nations system brings all its capacities to bear on these challenges -– in integrated fashion, and working in concert with the full range of partners.

With that aim in view, I wish you all possible success in your deliberations.

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For information media. Not an official record.