|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-eighth General Assembly
Regional Voices Must Be Heard, Priorities Captured in Post-2015 Agenda,
Commission Head Tells Second Committee
The global South was leading the post-crisis economic recovery, several heads of the United Nations Regional Commissions told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) today during their annual dialogue.
While the South was becoming a major driver of economic growth for developing countries, it was important to remember that it was not a homogenous entity, said Rima Khalaf, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. The Arab region, for example, was very diverse, housing in terms of per capita income, the world’s richest country, Qatar, as well as one of the poorest, Yemen. The region had generous aid donors and also countries that were very aid dependent. More recently, countries in the region had embarked on a new path to democracy.
She said that to tackle shortcomings, regional voices must be heard and regional priorities and aspirations captured in the post-2015 development agenda. Economic, social and environmental sustainability, as well as good governance, must be addressed in a holistic manner. At the same time, cooperation need not be limited to trade and should span markets including financial and labour ones. Ultimately, cooperation must meet the aspirations of the people in having free, productive and dignified lives, she said.
The Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Alicia Bárcena, said that Latin America needed to make changes to its consumption patterns as they were based largely on imported goods. Trade and investment needed greater attention to reduce the threat of external shocks. Innovation had to increase if poverty was to break through its current plateau.
To address poverty and inequality, changes to the structure of employment were needed and methods of production had to change. The region would have to deal with demographic shifts that put pressures on universal social protection and issues relating to climate change. Equality, sustainability and productivity were the key aims. The “centre” of the global economy was moving to the Asia-Pacific, meaning South America remained on the periphery. She pointed to examples of “mega-regional” negotiations which, if they succeeded, would create large economically integrated areas.
The Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Shun-ichi Murata, said that the region was the most dynamic in the world, anchoring global economic recovery. Developing economies and countries were emerging as important players in health, education, tourism, and transport. Development assistance from industrialised countries had declined, while South-South development assistance had risen. Such assistance coming from developing countries was focused on capacity-building, technical assistance and sharing of experiences.
Despite the development, major challenges persisted, he stressed. An estimated 828 million people were living on less than $1.25 a day, 563 million were undernourished and 1.1 billion were in vulnerable employment. The unsustainable use of natural resources, lack of investment in infrastructure, and the vulnerability to natural disasters were also significant challenges. Inequality had increased in many countries, reducing social development gains. The challenge now was to foster cooperation and coordination among sub-regional groupings, particularly in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.
Dialogue with the United Nations Regional Commissions
This afternoon, the Committee held a dialogue with the Executive Secretaries of the Regional Commissions on “Inter-regional cooperation: An enabler for the post-2015 development agenda”, chaired by Abdou Salam Diallo (Senegal) and moderated by Alicia Bárcena, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and current Coordinator of the Regional Commissions.
It featured presentations by Rima Khalaf, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Security of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia; Sven Alkalaj, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe; Shun-ichi Murata, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; and, Aida Opoku-Mensah, Special Advisor to the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, on post-2015 development agenda.
Mr. DIALLO said the annual dialogue proved to be extremely useful in providing the Committee with an insight into the regional perspectives and concerns on a wide range of development issues. The Rio outcome document “The Future We Want” acknowledged the importance of the regional dimension of sustainable development. The guiding principles of South-South cooperation, namely, national ownership and sovereignty, solidarity, equality, mutual respect and benefit, and freedom from any conditionality, had characterised regional and interregional cooperation among developing countries as a partnership rather than a donor-recipient relationship. In that regard, it was important to provide Member States with capacity-building, data collection, and the sharing of experiences as a means of strengthening ties between countries and enhancing their respective capabilities to achieve sustainable development.
Ms. BÁRCENA, moderating the dialogue, said that Member States had agreed to develop a solid development programme for post-2015 based on the Millennium Development Goals. In that respect, the synergy between the countries of the South in their efforts to reach the Goals was becoming increasingly important. The global South had emerged on the world stage and was playing a major role in social and economic development. That complemented North-South cooperation. Increased interregional summits and forums had become major players on the international stage and those trends served as enablers of the post-2015 development agenda.
Ms. KHALAF said that the South was becoming a major driver of growth for developing countries but emphasized that the global South was not a homogenous entity. The Arab region was very diverse. In terms of per capita income, the richest country, Qatar, was in the Middle East and so was one of the poorest, Yemen. There were very generous aid donors and also countries that were aid dependent. Countries were either going through conflict or had come out of one. The Arab region had the only remaining occupation in the twenty-first century. More recently, some countries had embarked on a new path to democracy. She outlined the financial flows of the past 30 years, specifically in regards to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, as well as the greater Arab region. As to development assistance flows, Arab donors had averaged 1.5 per cent of gross national income (GNI) in 35 years, twice the United Nations target.
Although those trends were promising, there were concerns that needed to be addressed such as inter-regional imbalances, she stressed. Asia claimed over 80 per cent of all South-South trade. Moreover, the lack of technological transfer exacerbated the lack of technological diversification which increased the development divide. To address the shortcomings, regional commissions had held consultations to ensure regional voices were heard and regional priorities and aspirations were captured in the 2015-development agenda. Arab region priorities included economic, social, environmental sustainability, and the capacity building of governance and institutions. She emphasized the need to address regional priorities in a holistic manner and summarized several challenges and opportunities of democratic transitions in Chile, Slovakia, Mauritania and South Africa. Regional cooperation need not be limited to trade. It must span markets including financial and labour ones. Ultimately cooperation must meet the aspirations of the people in having free, production and dignified lives.
Mr. ALKALAJ stressed the need to address the multitude of social, economic and environmental challenges regionally and globally. Cooperation needed to be strengthened, as well as the institutional structures that enabled it. He discussed the transitions of former planned economies to market economies, with 11 formerly planned economies now part of the European Union and all others part of the Central European Free Trade Agreement. Efforts to enhance integration with the rest of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) were also prominent, as was inter-regional cooperation with North America, where trade and investment agreements were currently being negotiated. Many Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) programmes were shared with other regions, including those focused on managing trans-boundary water issues and other environmental matters. Statistical standards had also been developed which were applied regionally and globally.
Noting development challenges faced by middle-income countries, he discussed trade facilitation cooperation and work on public-private partnerships, saying that many countries outside of the region saw the ECE as a vehicle for developing best practices on such issues. He summarized efforts by ECE to cooperate with other regions on green technology and innovation, noting the impact of the Efficiency 21 Programme which was being adopted globally. He also emphasized the importance of the global partnership for development, but noted that they had been inadequate under the Millennium Goals and needed more attention post-2015.
Ms BARCENA pointed to uncertainty and pessimism lying ahead for the global economy. Growth prospects in developed economies were limited, but the developing economies were marked by dynamism, leading to their increased relevance and the greater importance of South-South trade, investment flows and cooperation. The South was leading the post-crisis recovery, she said, while also noting that the “centre” of the global economy was moving to the Asia-Pacific, meaning South America remained on the periphery. She pointed to several examples of “mega-regional” negotiations which, if they succeeded, would create large economically integrated areas. Despite those negotiations, multilateralism, particularly in the context of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations, remained at risk, with agreements being forged outside of its auspices.
Latin America needed to make changes, she acknowledged, pointing to consumption-based growth based largely on imported goods. Trade and investment needed greater attention to reduce the threat of external shocks and structural change was necessary. Innovation had to increase if poverty was to break through its current plateau. There was also a challenge related to public goods and urbanization. Because public goods were focused in areas of poverty, those who paid the largest proportion of taxes did not see the benefits and questioned tax rates. To truly address poverty and inequality, changes to the structure of employment were needed and methods of production needed to change. The region would have to deal with demographic changes that put pressures on universal social protection, as well as issues relating to climate change. Equality, sustainability and productivity were the key aims, she said, noting cooperation between the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) with Africa on hunger, with the Asia-Pacific on social protection, and with Europe on “Principle 10”.
Mr. MURATA said that since the creation of ESCAP in 1947, the countries of Asia had transformed themselves. For example, Sri Lanka’s GDP rose from $91 per capita income in 1947 to $1,884 in 2012. The Asia-Pacific region was the most dynamic in the world, anchoring global economic recovery. Developing countries’ share in global trade had increased sharply since 2008. The region was expected to become home to the largest middle class population. Inter-regional South-South trade had expanded rapidly in recent years. Exports from developing countries in the Americas to Asia had increased as well. That signified a shift in which developing economies and countries were emerging as important players in health, education, tourism, transport, and other services. That trend was beginning to take place outside the region as well as within the region. Development assistance from industrialised countries had declined in the past few years, while South-South development assistance had risen. Saudi Arabia was the largest Southern source of aid providing developing assistance, with China and India in second and third place in providing assistance that focused on capacity building, technical assistance and sharing of experiences.
On a global level, BRICS ( Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries were setting up a global bank to prioritize the development agenda in the South. Additionally, cooperation amongst developing countries was promoted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Economic Cooperation Organization, and the Pacific Islands Forum. The challenge was to foster cooperation and coordination among sub-regional groupings, particularly in the context of the post-2015 development agenda. Challenges persisted, he stressed, noting the 828 million people living on less than $1.25 a day, 563 million undernourished and 1.1 billion in vulnerable employment. The unsustainable use of natural resources, lack of investment in infrastructure, and the vulnerability to natural disasters were also significant challenges. Inequality had increased in many countries, reducing social development gains. Major challenges of connectivity remained in energy, water and communication. He outlined several ways ESCAP was assisting countries in setting a post-2015 agenda. Essential was the adoption of duty-free quota-free schemes for least developed countries as well as the exchange of good practices in South-South cooperation.
Ms. OPOKU-MENSAH said that Africa was experiencing unprecedented growth with increased resource mobilization. However, translating its economic growth was a challenge in terms of employment creation and turning the demographic dividend into a reality. On the Millennium Development Goals, Africa started at a very low level so progress had actually been quite slow. Capacity deficits and conditions prevailing in some countries had yet to be addressed. The 2015-development agenda must focus on inclusive economic growth and structural transformation as opposed to foreign donor funds. Social inclusion was important and attention must be paid to vulnerable groups. Regional consultations aimed to identify priorities and as a result had created the High Level Committee which was trusted to further synthesise and finalize the African Common Position. Global cooperation and inter-regional cooperation must be key in implementing the post-2015 agenda.
Africa needed to undertake structural economic transformation and work on inclusive growth that promoted food sufficiency and nutrition, which was key to building healthy States on the continent. Technology-transfer was an area where regional cooperation would play an important role. Also essential was financing and mutually beneficial partnerships. She summarized several regional and sub-regional efforts to promote cooperation.
In an ensuing discussion, Member States raised several issues relating to the work of regional commissions. Ethiopia’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the African Group, was one of several who pointed to the important role of regional commissions in promoting South-South cooperation and in setting the stage for the post-2015 development agenda. Ms. Upoku-Mensah answered by noting that an inclusive and integrated consultation process to define Africa’s priorities in the sustainable development goals was under way in Addis Ababa. Its aim was to forge a unified position.
Responding to the Moroccan representative’s points about the help given to States undergoing democratic transitions, Ms. Al-Khalaf noted the many challenges faced and the work done to develop the best policies possible to address them. Tackling poverty and ensuring social justice and balanced development would be vital to ensure countries reaped benefits.
Other delegates, including those from Cuba and Venezuela, took up the issue of improving inclusiveness and equality in development. Ms. Barcena agreed, stressing the need to tackle the vulnerabilities of small economies and to ensure they were not left out of major trade or integration groups.
Also taking part in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Marshall Islands, Russian Federation, Mexico and United States.
* *** *