Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the round table on “Rebirthing the Global Economy to Deliver Sustainable Development: Insights from Women Leaders”, in New York today:
Dear friends, good morning, good afternoon, good evening. You are all over the world, which is very good.
It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this first round table on rebirthing the global economy to deliver sustainable development. I believe only a women-led movement could be as far — as you say — that we need to rebirth the global economy, and I am very happy with your determination on this.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the global recession it has triggered, are of course causing immense human suffering around the world. Unless we act now, we could face years of depressed and disrupted economic growth. Those who suffer most will be the less equipped to respond. Extreme poverty and hunger are set to increase drastically, health‑care systems in many countries are already at breaking point and a generation of children is missing out on their education.
The pandemic threatens not just to put the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on hold, but to reverse progress that has already been made. And that is why, since the beginning of the crisis, I have been calling for a rescue package amounting to at least 10 per cent of the global economy.
It is interesting to see that developed countries are basically doing it with their own resources or printing money when their currencies can be accepted in all circumstances — as this is the case of our host country here — but the problem is to make sure that developing countries will have the resources, or will be provided with the resources, to be able to have similar packages to rescue their economies.
Four weeks ago, the Prime Ministers of Jamaica and Canada — Jamaica and Canada are the two countries that lead the Group of Friends of Financing Sustainable Development — the three of us convened global leaders to identify ways to finance the recovery and to build back better.
Representatives from different countries — about 50 Heads of State and Government — have now stepped forward to lead an effort that brings together Governments, international financial institutions, United Nations agencies, private sector creditors and more. They are examining options to address key challenges from global liquidity and debt vulnerability; to eroding illicit financial flows and recovering better.
We need concrete, radical and implementable solutions. And I hope that this series of round tables will make an enormous difference, stimulating new ideas and a totally different debate in relation to the classic ones we have witnessed in the recent past.
This is a human crisis. But, it also became a development and financing crisis — it is the first developing emergency, I remember. Developing countries face vastly increased demands for public spending exactly at the same time as tax and export revenues, inward investments and remittances are plummeting.
As we craft a comprehensive global response, action on finance must be central. If countries lack the financial means to fight the pandemic and invest in recovery, we face a health catastrophe and a painfully slow global recovery.
We are on the cusp of a widespread debt crisis, with many countries faced with an impossible choice between servicing their debt or protecting their most vulnerable communities and fighting the pandemic. Debt defaults can have devastating social consequences. And many countries simply do not have access to financial markets to be able to service their debt.
The “Group of 20” debt service suspension for the poorest countries was a welcome start. But, much more needs to be done. Support must be expanded and determined by vulnerability, rather than just gross domestic product (GDP). We absolutely need to address the debt concerns of the — mostly — developing countries and a large number of middle-income countries that have lost the capacity to access financial markets.
We also need to start thinking about durable solutions on debt that will create fiscal space for investments in recovery and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Beyond the fiscal shock, the COVID-19 crisis has impacted all the components of external finance: Direct investment, exports and remittances. Official development assistance (ODA) is under pressure as developed countries themselves deal with the fallout of the crisis. Uncertainty and a further retreat to inward‑looking policies and protectionism could turn today’s sharp decline into a prolonged period of weak external financing.
Moreover, as the pandemic disrupts supply chains and trade, there is a danger that some manufacturing will move back to developed countries, further reducing developing countries’ resources, and raising fundamental questions about their integration into the global economy. These questions need bold and creative answers.
Some of the most prominent and innovative economists involved in reimagining our world today happen to be women. It is also striking that while just 10 per cent of global leaders are women, many of these leaders have launched decisive and effective responses to the pandemic.
We need the insights and perspectives of all, if we are to create the inclusive, resilient and gender-equal societies we need to address the climate crisis and other global challenges.
So I am delighted to welcome this very distinguished panel of renowned economists, and to listen to your ideas and your perspectives. Welcome and all the best for your discussion.