New York, 16 January 2004 - Secretary-General's remarks at the ceremony for the handover of the Group of 77It is a pleasure to be with you for this handover ceremony. Let me first of all thank Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri and Morocco, which presided over the Group of 77 during an extraordinarily difficult year, a year marked by war in Iraq and the tragic events related to it -- including the attack on the United Nations itself in Baghdad. I commend Ambassador Bennouna for the exemplary manner in which he led the Group in such difficult times. In short, I want to thank the Minister and the Government of Morocco for his effective and able leadership during a particularly trying time.
The events of 2003 distracted the world's leaders from dealing with other threats – threats which, to most people, are equally immediate and real, if not more so. The threats of extreme poverty and hunger, unsafe drinking water, environmental degradation, and endemic or infectious disease.
We must refocus our energies on these threats. We must rebuild the momentum needed to translate the Millennium Development Goals into reality.
We did see some positive developments in 2003 that we must now build on. During the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva, we took steps to tap the vast potential of information and communication technologies to help reach the MDGs.
The ministerial meeting at Marrakesh charted the way for deeper South-South cooperation. The high-level conference at Almaty launched the first comprehensive plan to address the needs of landlocked developing countries. In ECOSOC and the General Assembly High-Level Dialogue, new impetus was given to commitments made at Monterrey to finance development and build a fairer international financial system.
The General Assembly sent a political message calling for resumed trade negotiations after the setback of Cancún, for meeting commitments for development and for accelerating the eradication of poverty.
It also adopted measures to launch a coordinated response to major UN conferences and summits and to better review their implementation. And it took steps to ensure that UN bodies organize their work so as to implement commitments made at conferences.
The challenge before us this year is to achieve much, much more, in concrete and specific terms that have real meaning for the world's people.
Qatar takes over the Chairmanship of the Group of 77 as we prepare to celebrate the Group's 40th anniversary. Let me congratulate Minister Al-Mahmoud and Ambassador Al-Nasser on assuming Qatar's duties as Chairman.
Above all, let me encourage you to prepare for the demands ahead. You will have to help ensure that in 2004, we devote ourselves to the challenges of development, and we devote all the energy that we can muster to tackle these challenges. Let us also in the year ahead, ensure that the promises that were made are kept and that we're able to restore hope.
On the positive side, the global economy is showing signs of improvement. A report just issued by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, entitled World Economic Situation and Prospects 2004, forecasts a growth rate of three and a half per cent in 2004, with recovery in an increasing number of countries shifting to a higher gear. But there are still continued and growing imbalances which pose a serious threat to our ability to reach the MDGs, such as the large US external deficit and matching surpluses in a handful of other countries.
I hope it is an auspicious sign that Qatar will be guiding the G77 in the year when we hope to push forward the Doha “development round” of trade negotiations. If we are to have any hope of reaching the MDGs by the target date of 2015, we must move quickly to give developing nations free and fair access to global markets and to spare them from subsidized competition. Rich countries must recognize that it is in their self-interest to open up trade on fair terms. UNCTAD IX in Sao Paulo in June will provide another important occasion to agree on how national and international trade policies can best support growth and development.
This year should also be one of renewed commitment to the most vulnerable members of the international community. We will take stock of the implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action for Small Islands Developing States in Mauritius. The ECOSOC High Level Segment will focus on resources for the Least Developed Countries. I see these meetings as occasions for delivering on our promises in concrete ways. We will also need to give more concrete content to our partnership with Africa, now that NEPAD is up and running.
The Assembly has decided to hold a high-level event in 2005 to review comprehensively the Millennium Declaration. We have to mobilize for that event, and firm up its scope and format. Above all, all partners must work together to achieve significant progress on the MDGs by 2005. If we are not on track by the end of next year, all hope of reaching the goals by 2015 will soon vanish.
Finally, as you know, I have appointed a panel of eminent persons to examine threats to peace and security -- as well as other global challenges. In the light of that analysis, I hope to make bold recommendations to the General Assembly.
I appeal to you to give your full support to these recommendations. To give our efforts maximum impact, we must continue to sharpen our focus and improve our working methods. Our central challenge is to ensure that we have the instruments and institutions to deal with the full range of challenges before us.
I am confident that under Qatar's able leadership, the Group of 77 will contribute to our collective efforts during 2004 to make the United Nations better equipped to address those challenges. Thank you very much.