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GA/EF/3051
23 October 2003

WORLD SUMMIT ON INFORMATION SOCIETY MUST HELP BRIDGE DIGITAL DIVIDE BETWEEN TECHNOLOGY HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS, SECOND COMMITTEE TOLD

23/10/2003
Press Release
GA/EF/3051


Fifty-eighth General Assembly

Second Committee

20th Meeting (AM)


WORLD SUMMIT ON INFORMATION SOCIETY MUST HELP BRIDGE DIGITAL DIVIDE BETWEEN


TECHNOLOGY HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS, SECOND COMMITTEE TOLD


Information Revolution Linked to Freedom, Transparency,

Says Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information


The upcoming Geneva meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in December must seek effective solutions to bridge the ever-widening digital divide between those with high-tech infrastructure and those without, the representative of the Republic of Korea told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) this morning as it continued its debate on macroeconomic policy questions.


He said that while information and communication technologies were among the most effective instruments for boosting productivity, economic growth and ultimately the overall development of developing countries, their benefits remained out of reach for many people worldwide.  The World Summit’s draft Declaration of Principles addressed those challenges and its draft Plan of Action –- which addressed Internet governance and the right of access information, among other things –- could serve as a blueprint for the eventual creation of a global information society.


Similarly, Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, said that information and communication technology was not an end in itself, but a means to supply content, create awareness and foster development.  Timely access to news and information could promote trade, education, health, and wealth and the Summit would be the first gathering to address global information communication technology issues at the highest governmental levels.


Emphasizing the importance of protecting and enhancing press freedom, including the electronic press, he said the information revolution was infinitely linked to political freedom, global competitiveness and global transparency, and it was incumbent upon governments to allow for information access and technology sharing in order to improve information infrastructure.  The United Nations Department of Public Information, in collaboration with the European Broadcasting Union and the Swiss Government, would hold a forum in December to discuss the role of electronic media and affirm the principles of press freedom.


Switzerland’s representative outlined several other events to be hosted by the Swiss Government in conjunction with the World Summit, including an Information and Communication Technologies for Development Platform. 


It would comprise an exhibition on how technology, from transistor radios to high-tech computer systems, could be used to reduce poverty and promote development.  He pointed out, however, that despite the progress made, the Summit’s draft Declaration of Principles still lacked a strong focus on poverty, the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the role of information communication technologies and the private sector in the creation of jobs and wealth.


Several speakers urged the international community to expedite the implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action, which resulted from the International Ministerial Conference of Landlocked and Transit Developing Countries, with the aim of reducing transport costs for landlocked and transit developing countries, and integrating them into the regional and international economies.  A number of delegates deplored the lack in many developing countries of biotechnology and information communication technologies, which were desperately needed for economic growth, poverty-eradication and development.


Other speakers making statements today included the representatives of Benin, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (on behalf of the Landlocked Developing Countries), Algeria, Mongolia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Israel, Mali, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Burundi, Mexico, Paraguay and Lebanon.


A representative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) also spoke.


The Second Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. for a panel discussion on “Microcredit, Poverty Eradication and the Empowerment of Women” organized by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.


Background


The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met this morning to continue its consideration of macroeconomic policy questions.


Statements


EDOUARD AHO-GLELE (Benin) noted that the Almaty Programme of Action had given the international community a global framework to address the needs of landlocked and transit countries.  Benin was familiar with the problems of such countries, as its capital, Cotonou, one of the most active ports in West Africa, served four landlocked countries.  The country’s main road arteries linked the Atlantic with the hinterland, and its railways linked Benin and Niger.


Setting up effective transport and transit routes required partnerships between development partners and transit countries, he said.  The adoption of the Almaty Programme had provided hope, with specific targets regarding improved sea access, reduced transport costs to enhance export competitiveness, and improved road security.  Stressing that the Programme should be speedily implemented, he said landlocked developing countries could rely on Benin’s support in ensuring that it heeded their concerns.


SHASHI THAROOR, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, spoke about the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to be held in Geneva in December 2003 and Tunis in 2005.  He said humankind could not live by technology alone, and that information communication technology was not an end in itself, but a means to supply content, create awareness and foster development.  Timely access to news and information could promote trade, education, health and wealth.  However, many of the world’s people remained untouched by the information revolution.  The Summit would be the first gathering to address global information communication technology issues at the highest governmental levels.


He emphasized that the protection and enhancement of press freedom was very important for the information technology revolution.  The issue of press freedom, including the extension of press freedom to new technologies and to all media, would be in the spotlight at the Summit.  The information revolution was infinitely linked to political freedom, global competitiveness and global transparency, and it was incumbent upon governments to resist the temptation to control and censor information and to share technology in order to improve information infrastructure.


While the main players at the upcoming Summit would be governments, non-governmental organizations and the media had already given their input, he said.  The outcome documents should reaffirm the universality of press freedom, including on the Internet.  The right to press freedom was nothing new, and was already part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the landmark 1991 Windhoek Declaration that had led to the adoption of 3 May as the annual World Press Freedom Day.  The 1997 Declaration of Sofia, afforded the same freedom and protections to electronic media.  Member States had already affirmed the right to press freedom many times.


The media were important stakeholders and partners in development, he said.  While it was hoped that press freedom could help close the digital divide, it must not be confused with anarchy, however.  Governments had shut down sites that promoted pornography, anti- Semitism and anti-Islamic views.  That was part of penal law.


He said that the United Nations Department of Public Information, the European Broadcasting Union and the Swiss Government would hold an electronic forum from 9 to 11 December with governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, the media and other stakeholders, to discuss the role of electronic media and affirm the principles of press freedom.  Multiculturalism was the other side of press freedom, he said, noting that part of development involved the protection of creativity.


ALOUNKEO KITTIKHOUN (Lao People’s Democratic Republic), speaking on behalf of the landlocked developing countries, said they now had a new tool –- the Almaty Programme of Action –- in tackling their special needs, which included reducing transport costs for exports, integrating into the regional and global economic mainstreams, and transforming from marginalized States to sustainable development.  The challenge was to turn that instrument into reality.


In meeting the Almaty goals, he said, all stakeholders must realize the magnitude of their commitments and translate them into concrete projects at the national, bilateral, subregional, regional and international levels.  The first step was to get the Almaty Declaration and Programme endorsed by the General Assembly.  In fact, all items relating to landlocked developing countries that were under consideration by the Assembly should now be brought together under the review process of the Almaty Programme of Action.


DJIHED EDDINE BELKAS (Algeria) said the total capital flow to developing countries in 2002 had reached only $75 billion, slightly half the average for the 1990s.  Such capital had arrived in the form of foreign direct investment (FDI), loans and official grants from development banks and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  Noting that the Monterrey Consensus had attempted to find new ideas to finance development, he welcomed the upcoming High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development.


He stressed the importance of science and technology for development, emphasizing that the international community must reaffirm the right of developing countries to derive full benefits from advances in that field.  Developing countries were striving to incorporate science and development into their policies and programmes in efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and access to information was a key factor in achieving sustainable development. 


CHOISUREN BAATAR (Mongolia), noting that remoteness and isolation from world markets were a major challenge for landlocked least developed countries, said his country was more than 1,600 kilometres from the nearest maritime port.  Moreover, small physical size, frequent climate change, inadequate infrastructure and high transport costs hampered their economic development.  The international donor community, including financial and development institutions, had a vital role to play in financing programmes and transferring technology to create efficient transit transport networks in landlocked and transit developing countries.  They could not shoulder that burden alone and needed the full support of the Almaty Programme of Action.


Noting that his country encouraged the strengthening of transport-related partnerships with all stakeholders, he said that the expected conclusion of Mongolia’s ongoing negotiations with the Russian Federation and China on transit transportation cooperation would spur trade and investment, facilitate goods and other shipments within the region, and foster economic cooperation in North-East Asia.  Moreover, meeting the goals of international trade facilitation and confidence restoration, as called for in the Doha work programme, was crucial for the least developed developing countries, he said, stressing their need for preferential trade access.


B. P. Z. LOLO (Nigeria) said that in 2002, the total debt stock of developing countries and countries with economies in transition had increased by an estimated $52 billion, while official development assistance (ODA) flows to developing countries had declined over the same period.  With regard to reserve accumulation and net transfer of resources, 2002 had been yet another year of current-account deficits and financial woes for sub-Saharan Africa.  The net transfer of financial resources from developing countries had hit a record     $192 billion, and this year alone, developing countries would spend $350 billion in external debt-servicing.  Nigeria, like other heavily-indebted countries, had little left for education, health, infrastructure and poverty eradication, as it spent eight times as much on debt-servicing as it did on education, and six times as much as it did on health.


He said the Heavily-Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt-relief initiative illustrated well the ineffectiveness of measures to address the external debt crisis.  External debt was a perpetual burden on developing nations and a crisis that resulted from a lack of will and compassion.  For that reason, Nigeria believed strongly that urgent efforts should be made to swap debt for sustainable development.  HIPCs, be they poor, low- or middle-income countries, needed debt relief or cancellation in order to win the fight against poverty, hunger, disease and achieve the other millennium targets.


JEAN-ROBERT MORET (Switzerland) said preparations for the World Summit on the Information Society had been open, drawing in all stakeholders.  Governments had done the actual negotiating and made the decisions, but other groups had interacted with government representatives and provided real input.  The Preparatory Committee’s third session in September had focused on the Summit documents -– the Declaration of Principles and the Plan of Action.  Negotiations on the Plan had gone well, but work on the Declaration still lacked a strong focus on poverty, the Millennium Development Goals, and the role of Information and Communication Technologies and the private sector in creating wealth and jobs.


A major Summit event, he continued, would be the Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Development Platform, jointly organized by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Global Knowledge Partnership.  The Platform would include an exhibition and conference programme showing how ICTs –- from transistor radios to high-tech computer systems –- could be used to reduce poverty and promote development.  Other events would include the InfoDev, a high-level symposium managed by the World Bank; the World Electronic Media Forum, which would focus on the enhanced role of radio, television and web sites in the information society; and a conference on the Role of Science in the Information Society, hosted by the Geneva-based European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN).


DER KOGDA (Burkina Faso) said the Almaty Conference had been a major turning point, providing an opportunity to comprehensively address transit transportation problems.  Burkina Faso supported the appeal by landlocked developing countries for assistance in dealing with prohibitive transit transportation costs and their lack of direct access to the sea for key commodity exports.  They required lower transport costs, increased ODA, debt relief and increased access to the markets of developed as well as other developing countries.


While noting the failure of the recent ministerial trade talks at Cancun, he welcomed the active participation of landlocked developing nations at the meetings.  There was no unilateral solution to transit transport problems, as regional and international cooperation was needed.  Burkina Faso was doing its part through regional cooperation with its landlocked and sea-access countries alike.


ALI YAHYA (Israel) said his country had worked for years to develop long-range scientific research programmes and technologies, many of which could serve as models for other countries and offer great possibilities for cooperation.  For example, the Institute for Desert Research in the Negev was studying the connection between desertification and grazing, adapting animals to desert conditions by energy conservation, and the developing agricultural methods to halt desertification.  It was also carrying out projects under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


He said that many state-funded studies in Israel attempted to improve yield without using genetic engineering.  Israel was a world leader in genetic research on wheat and the genomics of gourds, namely watermelon, melons and pumpkins.  Researchers were also conducting studies on plant viruses and diseases affecting potatoes, cassava and yams, crops of particular interest to African States.  Those examples illustrated how studies in Israel could contribute to the well-being of people worldwide, especially those still struggling to survive.


ISSOUF MAIGA (Mali) noted that the Almaty Programme of Action contained international commitments to meet the special needs of landlocked and transit developing countries.  Such needs included overcoming isolation and marginalization, finding access to the sea, and reducing transport costs.  The international community’s challenge was to meet the Almaty commitments at all levels. 


One of the main aims of the Almaty Programme was to ensure that developing countries participated more in global trade, which was the engine of growth, he said.  The failure of the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) conference at Cancun was regrettable, especially regarding subsidies for agricultural products.  Cotton was of particular interest to Mali, where millions of people depended on it.  Full implementation of the Almaty Programme should contribute significantly to effective transit transport systems and the integration of landlocked and transit developing countries into world trade. 


NINH THI BINH (Viet Nam) said that large portions of the Asian continent had failed to benefit from existing biotechnology and ICTs for economic growth, poverty eradication and development.  Though developing countries had realized the economic impact of biotechnology in such vital areas as agriculture, health, industry and sustainability, many obstacles prevented them from participating in the ICT and biotechnology revolution.  Those hurdles included absence of infrastructure, regulation frameworks, education, capacity, investment and technology transfer. 


The international community must show more political will in finding concrete ways to tackle obstacles to the promotion of science and technology in developing countries, she stressed, calling for the enhancement of North-South and South-South cooperation as well as partnerships at all levels.  Developed nations should consider increasing investment and technology transfer on concessional terms at a lower cost to developing countries.  The Commission on Science and Technology for Development should intensify its activities to assist with strategies for science and technology development in developing countries. 


SHIN BOO-NAM (Republic of Korea) said the international community had witnessed the uneven distribution of globalization’s benefits in the field of information and communication technologies, which had emerged as the most effective instruments for increasing productivity and fostering the overall development of developing countries.  Every day, the digital divide between countries with information and communication technologies infrastructure and those without grew wider and more difficult to bridge.  There was an urgent need to effectively integrate those technologies in a timely manner.


He expressed the hope that the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society would promote digital opportunities, noting that its draft declaration of principles addressed the major issues concerning the bridging of the digital divide.  The Republic of Korea supported the Summit’s draft action plan as a blueprint for the eventual creation of a global information society.  It was hoped that various issues within the action plan, including internet governance and the right of access to information, would be addressed at the third Preparatory Committee meeting to be held in November in order to facilitate a mutually agreeable conclusion at the Summit. 


DATIN PADUKA SERIPAH NOLI SYED HUSSIN (Malaysia) welcomed efforts over the past few years to reform the international financial system, but stressed that they were far from adequate.  The international community had yet to devise a financial system that could withstand market failures, efficiently allocate resources across borders and improve prospects for the world economy.  Reforms were needed to ensure that liberalization would not lead to unstable markets due to excessive foreign exchange speculation by the owners and managers of capital as small emerging markets liberalized capital account transactions.


She said that ensuring stable conditions in the international financial system must also include reforms in financial institutions to increase the participation of developing countries in policymaking, as well as transparency and accountability in both the public and private sectors.  Some progress had been made to encourage private entities, including highly leveraged institutions, rating agencies and offshore financial centres, to become more transparent.  At the international level, there was a need to increase the monitoring/surveillance role of the IMF in safeguarding international financial stability, which should encourage the disclosure to national authorities of large positions by market participants and offshore financial centres.


MARC NTETURUYE (Burundi) said that lack of access to the sea, isolation and distance to world markets, as well as high transport costs had been enormous challenges for landlocked developing countries.  The Almaty Programme of Action aimed to correct that imbalance through transit transport infrastructure development.  The donor community must support those programmes as well as efforts to harmonize customs procedures.  Considerable delays due to customs red tape lowered the competitiveness of the products of landlocked developing countries on world markets. 


Actions taken under the New Partnership for Africa’s Development’s (NEPAD) to meet transit transport challenges included harmonizing transit transport rules and visa issuance procedures; public-private sector partnerships for building and maintaining transport infrastructure; capacity-building; and sponsorship of the development of transport corridors.  Burundi’s medium-term strategy for economic recovery and poverty alleviation included the development of regional transit corridors to neighbouring States for trade and commerce. 


CARLOS VALERA (Mexico) said the United Nations could help to identify measures to attract capital flows to developing countries.  In addition, the international community must explore new means to resolve the external debt burden of developing countries, which could include enhancing their capacity for debt management and risk handling.


He said that within the HIPC initiative, his country had contributed        $40 million in special drawing rights, which it would provide in five yearly payments.  Since 1988, Mexico had been contributing to the initiative as a middle-income country.  It had also contributed $29.3 million to the Inter-American Development Bank to finance HIPC and rescheduled the debts of several South American countries at highly favourable terms.


JUAN ALFREDO BUFFA (Paraguay) said his country had actively participated in the preparatory process of the Conference of Landlocked and Transit Developing Countries in Kazakstan and hopefully the commitments made at Almaty -– notably the development of modern infrastructure to reduce transit travel time and transport costs -– would be carried out promptly and effectively. 


Urging international support for the Initiative for Investment in Regional Infrastructure in South America and the development of the Paraguay-Parana waterway project, he said it was an essential transit transport corridor for landlocked Paraguay and Bolivia to neighbouring transit countries.  The active and resolute coordination of landlocked least developed countries, donor countries and United Nations agencies was needed to overcome the difficulties that geography had long imposed on trade and development.


MAJDI RAMADAN (Lebanon) noted that the net transfer of financial resources from developing countries had reached a record high of $192 billion last year. That alarming figure, coupled with the slow progress of the enhanced HIPC initiative and the unsustainable debt burden on low- to middle-income developing countries, were serious constraints to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  Debt sustainability was hampered by low ODA levels, increased net financial transfers from developing countries, and reduced export earnings in those countries.


He said Lebanon had succeeded, with the help of France, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United States, Malaysia and others, in acquiring soft loans amounting to $4.3 billion, which would help in restructuring its huge national debt.  It remained committed to fulfilling all its financial obligations, while undergoing microeconomic reform to enhance its economic recovery.


CHING-YU YAO, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), said that growth in productivity was primarily driven by technological progress, upgrading and difficulties.  The agency contributed in two key ways; to diffuse technology, it aimed at technological learning, absorption and mastery through programmes promoting technology and investment in it, including the upgrade and rehabilitation of manufacturing and technical services, South-South cooperation and environmentally sound technologies.  In the area of capacity-building for market access and development, initiatives were aimed at helping small and medium enterprises to compete both locally and externally.  Programmes were aimed at practical areas such as sanitation, standards and value-chain integration.  They were also aimed at improving export performance.


Recalling the assumptions behind UNIDO’s work, she said the private sector was key to development strategy, and that small and medium enterprises were crucial for increasing productivity.  Based on those assumptions, UNIDO was committed to devising and implementing programmes to speed the transfer and mastery of technology and to facilitate market access.  It had promoted the sustainable application of biotechnology and would take part in the first Global Biotechnology Forum, to be held next March in Chile.  Also, UNIDO would participate in the World Summit on the Information Society at Geneva in December and at Tunis in 2005.


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For information media. Not an official record.