As the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to batter the economies of developing countries, the five regional commissions of the United Nations system are crucial to fostering the multilateralism required to recover and pursue the Sustainable Development Goals, those speakers told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) as it met with those bodies today.
Opening the meeting, Amrit Bahadur Rai (Nepal), Chair of the Second Committee, noted the theme of “The United Nations at 75 — Regional cooperation: A building block of multilateralism and shared prosperity in the era of COVID‑19 and beyond”. As the ravaging effects of the coronavirus continue to take lives and reverse years of economic growth and social progress, he said it is important to respond to the global quagmire of disease with vaccine multilateralism. Moderating the discussion, Amr Nour, Director of the Joint Regional Commissions at the New York Office, noted that a decade ago during a fuel, food and financial crisis, the regional commissions illustrated the benefits of multilateralism.
Speaking first, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said the Asia‑Pacific region is not on track to meet any of the Sustainable Development Goals, with great concern over those regarding climate and the environment. Regional cooperation is key to mitigating effects and building back better from the crisis, she said, underscoring the importance of protecting people by supporting micro-, small- and medium‑sized enterprises. As the region is home to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, ecosystems must be restored through both green and blue recovery, addressing marine plastic and hazard resilience.
Rola Dashti, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), said that prior to the pandemic, the Arab region was battered by conflict, with 29 million people displaced from their homes and 55 million dependent on humanitarian assistance. While global stimulus spending is 11.3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), it is only 3.8 per cent on average for Arab countries, with an additional $70 billion needed to mitigate the pandemic. That region is the only one with rising extreme poverty, with 14 million more pushed into poverty for a total one‑quarter of the entire Arab population, and 18 of the 22 countries considered water scarce.
Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), stated that regional cooperation offers the most suitable platform to advance multilateralism, including reconnecting economies, reversing disruption of trade and transport links, and addressing transboundary risks. It is important to facilitate connectivity, impaired by restrictions to mobility and health compliance requirements, with trade likely to fall by double digits in 2020. The Commission is connecting over 70 economies around the world, cutting transport times by nearly 60 per cent and costs by up to 40 per cent.
Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said that the region is facing its worst crisis in a century, complicating sustainable development efforts. Latin American and Caribbean countries are calling for a new development paradigm, as “austerity is not an option” in responding to the extended crisis. The Commission’s recovery proposals include extending basic emergency income for 12 months, guaranteed universal digital access, expansive fiscal and monetary policies, and debt relief for Caribbean nations. It is crucial to increase funding to address the debt vulnerability of small island developing States.
Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and Coordinator of the five Regional Commissions, said that with multilateralism, Africa will be able to emerge from its concurrent health, climate and economic crises. Prior to the pandemic, poverty on the continent had fallen below 40 per cent as countries spent on growth‑enabling sectors such as infrastructure. Going forward, extending the debt servicing suspension initiative into 2021 will be particularly important, along with greater liquidity, reducing the cost of capital and lower fees for overseas remittances. “Trade is going to be the solution out of this crisis,” she said.
As the moderator opened the floor, the representative of the European Union said no one single country can deal with the negative effects of the pandemic on every level of human life. Noting the bloc itself is a regional mechanism, he said “there is beauty in diversity” and all regions should work closely together rather than compete.
Morocco’s delegate stressed the centrality of regional action for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. From an African perspective, the region has been heavily impacted by the pandemic at many levels, an alarming situation but also an opportunity as the continent is full of potential. The Russian Federation’s representative said that Government has funded 76 ECE projects and 42 ESCAP projects, and asked Ms. Bárcena for more information about the digital baskets initiative for countries without Internet access.
Afghanistan’s delegate cited important Central Asian multilateral projects including in the energy sector, asking how the commissions can enhance trust at the regional levels. The representative of the United Kingdom addressed how the commissions are integrating climate change action, and how they have improved collaboration with the United Nations system for real‑world impact. Indonesia’s delegate asked what changes the pandemic has wrought with multi‑stakeholder partnerships, and if there is a plan to enhance them.
Also speaking were the representatives of Guyana (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Lebanon, Mexico, Ethiopia, China, Thailand, Costa Rica and Bulgaria.
The Committee met again at 3 p.m. to take up agenda item 62, titled “Permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources”.