– As delivered –

Remarks by H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly

1 April 2021

His Excellency, Ambassador Luigi Mattiolo, G20 Sherpa of Italy,

Mr. Navid Hanif, UN G20 Sous-Sherpa and Director, Financing for Sustainable Development Office,

Excellencies,

Allow me to first extend a warm welcome to Ambassador, my long term colleague and friend, Mattiolo, and to express appreciation for today’s briefing. Dialogue between the G20 and the UN General Assembly is an important tool to ensure unity and transparency in multilateral efforts and we welcome this opportunity.

The G20 was created at a time when global financial stability was in danger, and it is reassuring to see the Group stepping up to support the international community now, during the peril brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Italy’s overarching theme for their G20 Presidency, ‘People, Planet, Prosperity’, is most appropriate and strongly aligned with the SDGs.

As the largest and most advanced economies, the G20 must continue to demonstrate leadership and to provide support to multilateral initiatives that enable vaccines for all. This includes earmarking resources and supplies of vaccines, especially surplus vaccines, for other countries and vulnerable groups. On this, I commend those countries that have already indicated a willingness to do that, as well as recognize the continued support of the G20 to COVAX. 

Volkan Bozkir

President of the UN General Assembly

Excellencies,

Allow me to reflect on four very pertinent topics as they relate to the current crisis: support for vaccines for all; transformative recovery from COVID-19; targeted support for debt relief; and strengthening multilateralism, are the pertinent topics.

First, on the issue of vaccines, it is deeply important that Member States and the G20 continue to support the principled approach of fair and equitable access to vaccines, and to provide much needed resource support to multilateral mechanisms, such as the WHO-led COVAX Facility.

A country-by-country approach to vaccination leaves the door open to new variants and a protracted recovery period; the global economy will not recover this way. There is thus a moral and practical imperative to move quickly to ensure vaccines for all.

On this point, I am pleased to note that on 26 March, 181 UN Member States committed to the Political Declaration on Equitable Global Access to COVID-19 Vaccines, which included agreeing:

–        to treat COVID-19 vaccination as a global public good by ensuring affordable, equitable and fair access to vaccines for all;

–        to include financial contributions to the ACT Accelerator and to COVAX in recovery plans;

–        to forge robust partnerships to increase production, distribution and access to COVID-19 vaccines;

–        to tackle misinformation and address vaccine hesitancy;

–        and to strengthen vaccine preparedness, including ensuring efficient supply chains and logistics, to overcome challenges related to vaccine storage, distribution, and management.

As the largest and most advanced economies, the G20 must continue to demonstrate leadership and to provide support to multilateral initiatives that enable vaccines for all. This includes earmarking resources and supplies of vaccines, especially surplus vaccines, for other countries and vulnerable groups. On this, I commend those countries that have already indicated a willingness to do that, as well as recognize the continued support of the G20 to COVAX.

Looking towards recovery, the G20 can help usher in a transformative approach to recovering from COVID-19. We need a recovery that builds back better in order to reinforce systems against future shocks. In this context, I support the call for stimulus packages that align with the SDGs and related 2030 agreements.

For all of its tragedy, the COVID-19 pandemic and related recovery is our single best chance to fast-track development progress and steer efforts in the right direction. Let us not squander this opportunity to build the world and future we want and need.

On this point, I commend the establishment of the G20 High-level Independent Panel on Financing the Global Commons for Pandemic Preparedness and Response; the re-establishment of the G20 Sustainable Finance Study Group; and the organization of the G20 International Tax Symposium, which puts international taxation on the global political agenda.

 

Excellencies, building back better also requires that we acknowledge and improve the complex relationship we have with the natural world.  After all, the emergence of zoonotic disease from encroachment on the natural world is widely understood to be behind the deadly COVID-19 pandemic; we cannot move forward in a constructive manner if we do not take into account the impacts of our actions.

We must make every effort to ensure that upcoming sessions of the Conference of the Parties for all three Rio Conventions – on climate, biodiversity, and on desertification – are given our full attention. I am pleased to say that the UN General Assembly will support this effort through a High-Level Meeting on Desertification, Land Degradation, and Drought in May to help build political support and momentum. I look forward to support from the G20 to making this a success.

My third point refers to debt relief and areas for investment. While facing the largest socio-economic crisis in its history, it is understood that every country will have to invest broadly to spur jobs and economic growth. For developing countries, this will be challenging to near impossible when faced with severe debt burdens that risk wiping out a generation’s worth of development. We must be proactive and ambitious in our efforts to alleviate debt in the short-term if we are to expedite national and international recovery.

Colleagues, in just one-year public debt increased by 15% to reach $10 trillion as a result of the dual challenge of declining revenue and the health and economic response to the COVID-19 crisis.

To allow developing countries to confront the short-term challenge of the pandemic, the expansion and redistribution of new Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), or reallocation of existing SDRs to debt distressed countries, is important.

I welcome the IMF discussions of a possible SDR allocation of $650 billion, which would supplement the foreign reserves of countries most in need for financial liquidity without adding to their existing debt burden. These resources would allow countries to help fight the consequences of the pandemic and support vaccination programs.

Likewise, I commend the G20 for extending the Debt Service Suspension Initiative for six months and adopting a common framework for debt treatments. At the same time, I reiterate the Secretary-General’s call for a further extension through the end of 2021 and, critically, the need to consider expanding the scope of these initiatives to other developing countries in need.

The establishment of a debt restructuring mechanism, as well as debt cancellation for countries with unsustainable debt burden, should be considered to guarantee financial space and liquidity. Especially for Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States, which are facing a devastating economic crisis from losses from tourism, trade and their geographic vulnerabilities.

 

Excellencies,

My final point refers to the need to strengthen and support the multilateral system. As it is, COVID-19 has been a test of our multilateral system, but it is a test we were built for; we must use our systems as they were designed to respond appropriately and, where necessary, adapt them to reflect the world as it is today. And this does not apply solely to the UN: while we need a UN that is fit for purpose, adaptable and agile, we also need reform of the international trade and financial systems.

This includes the World Trade Organization, where reform needs to focus on strengthening its role as a forum to continue to liberalize trade and establish new rules, monitor trade policies, and better resolve disputes between its 164 members.

For the IFIs, the ongoing crisis presents an opportunity to adapt policies and tools to reflect modern needs. As unprecedented levels of financial resources are mobilized in support of COVID recovery, policies to allow more flexibility in providing financial assistance, to increase member states’ foreign reserves, and to provide debt relief to low-income countries should all be pursued.

Excellencies, I would be remiss if I did not flag the need to address the financial constraints of the UN System. While the System has been undergoing successful reforms and fulfilling its role to support countries during this time of crisis, it has had to do so under incredible resource constraints. This situation may only get worse before it gets better, as the COVID recovery is apt to absorb all available resources. I welcomed the UN’s Fifth Committee adoption of the regular budget for 2021. I now call upon the G20, as major financial contributors to the UN system, to help bolster the UN System – a trusted partner to many national governments – at this critical juncture, to secure its support for global peace and prosperity for years to come.

In closing, allow me to reiterate my appreciation to the G20 for its support during this challenging period and to once again thank you for your briefing to the General Assembly. The global pandemic has been a test of multilateralism and while challenges have been many, I feel that we have risen to the occasion.

But let us not rest now. Billions continue to require vaccines; billions depend on socio-economic support; and billions continue to look to the UN, International Financial Institutions, and groupings such as the G20 for direction and support through our shared challenges. Let us do what we must. Let us emerge stronger and wiser from this challenge.

Thank you.