unctad.org | Final Plenary of UNCTAD XI
Statement by Mr. Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
Final Plenary of UNCTAD XI
São Paulo
18 Jun 2004

Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Celso Amorim has been presiding over this conference with the qualities that have made him not only one of the brightest Brazilian diplomats, but also one of the best Ministers of Foreign Relations that we have ever had.

We were both colleagues in the Cabinet of President Itamar Franco, when I was responsible first for the Environment and Amazonian Affairs and later for the Economy. Even then Celso stood out not only because of his extraordinary intelligence, culture, sense of humanity but also because of his capacity to see and seize opportunities. This is perhaps one of the main characteristics of the foreign policy that he is helping President Lula to implement, namely this capacity to seize the good opportunity. I believe he seized this particular opportunity of making this Conference a great moment for everybody without exclusions, without distinctions, without separation between North and South, between developed and developing countries.

We would very much wish for this conference to be remembered as a moment of true consensus. Of course, we are not going to paper over honest differences of opinion; they will always exist, and exist in every family. How could they disappear when we have such a diversity of peoples, countries and economies at different levels of development? This is natural and legitimate, and is not to be seen as a flaw or shortcoming; it is part of the dialectical process. No one holds a monopoly on truth, and we should have the humility to listen even when there is sharp disagreement with our own views, because in this complex matter of human and social development, it is only the diversity of approaches that will bring out the best in us. That was the spirit I tried so hard to bring to this meeting. I also tried to make it an enjoyable experience, not the monotonous kind of conference that one attends from time to time, where people go to a general debate that is no debate, and where they address empty rooms; rather, we tried to diversify with a variety of subjects and to innovate. I think this is the first time in the history of such gatherings that we have had a full discussion of three subjects which I, at least, hold very dear: trade and poverty reduction; trade and gender, the promotion of greater equality between women and men; and the role of the creative industries in fostering development, because this is an area where the poor have much to contribute in terms of the richness of their own cultures.

I shall not attempt to summarize the more than 50 events that took place between the Rio Trade Week and the São Paulo Conference. I hope that they have provided you with food for thought and that we will leave São Paulo with more information than we came with; that we have a better understanding of each other and of the issues; that we recognize the merit in holding a global forum for debate on development -- what I once called a sort of parliament of the world. This is what makes the United Nations unique. UNCTAD is very proud of being a part of the UN proper -- we are an organ of the UN General Assembly -- and the United Nations, with all its shortcomings, is the closest we have come in the long history of humankind to building an international organization that is truly universal and democratic. In many ways, this is what we saw here, including in this very session: a completely transparent and open type of conference, one where nothing is hidden and nothing decided without the participation of the public. In that sense, we are fulfilling President Wilson´s idea of an open diplomacy without secrets, and I really believe we made a contribution, even by trying to modernize the procedures and creating new ways of reaching out to civil society in the general debate. To my knowledge this is the first time ever in the history of international organizations where the general debate is being broadcast live on the Internet, and this is a goal to strive towards, to speak not only to a group of people but to the entire world of people interested in such matters.

It is not my intention here to attempt an interpretation of the meaning of this consensus or to go into matters of substance, but I would just like to say that this is my last UNCTAD conference. Given that fact, one of the joys it held for me was to see the renewed sense of commitment of the entire international community to this organization. I came to UNCTAD relatively late in life. I am probably the first Secretary-General of UNCTAD with a background in the GATT, and I believe this was useful. I retain deep admiration and affection for the people who helped me in the GATT, where I chaired the Council of the Contracting Parties. I also have great admiration for the secretariat of the WTO, the successor organization to the GATT, and I have tried to bring about full cooperation between those two indispensable organizations. We may sometimes differ in our perspectives, but we must go hand-in-hand; there is no other choice. We have to cooperate fully in order to have an international trading system that will progressively improve and overcome current problems. This is why we are committed with sincerity, and with a great sense of determination, to working towards this goal.

In order to integrate developing countries fully into the world trading system, we need not only successful trade negotiations but we must also address what has been called the problem of the "dark side of the moon" -- the supply-side constraints. Those are very serious and complex problems. One of the main reasons why so many developing countries fear trade negotiations is because in their heart of hearts they know they are not competitive. They know that they have only a few products, that they are overly dependent on one, two or three commodities. How then, could one expect them to have enthusiasm for the negotiations when there is so little at stake for them?

We have - and this has been my constant theme throughout my tenure at UNCTAD -- to make the greatest possible use of the organization to help developing countries both on the supply side and in trade negotiations. We have to try to address those problems and at the same time to give more attention to such problems as poverty, gender and culture. We are proud to be the organization of the least developed countries and have always been their focal point within the UN system. Of course, we welcome the fact that we now have the High Representative of the Secretary-General working in this area as well, but we are still the organization that researches their problems. Anyone familiar with our Least Developed Countries Report knows how useful it is in highlighting the particular difficulties faced by those countries. The LDCs are our primary and central responsibility, not only in UNCTAD, but in the entire international community. If, as Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, it is true that each society will ultimately be judged on the basis of the way it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members, then this also applies to the international community.

This leads me to the subject of the indivisibility of solidarity. We used to say that peace is indivisible: it is not possible for any of us to be at peace if we are at war with one or two of our neighbours. The great Portuguese poet Camões once wrote a beautiful poem in which he says, "Eu vou em paz com a minha Guerra", that is, "I proceed in peace with my inner war". We all have our inner war, our divisions, our anguish and pain, but we must be at peace with one another, because peace is indivisible. Solidarity is equally indivisible. Just as we have the duty to show solidarity in fighting the new threats of global terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and genocide, we have also to show solidarity towards the LDCs and the poor in their struggle to overcome poverty, disease, illiteracy, HIV/AIDS, the dangers posed by climate change and all other issues. We need a reform in the UN that will present peace, security and full human development as an indivisible part of the whole agenda.

In closing, it was particularly meaningful, even touching, for me to have this last conference in my hometown of São Paulo. If you will allow me a small personal note, I was born not very far from here, in a neighbourhood that in this country symbolizes Italian immigration: the neighbourhood of Bras, which was the most typical of all the neighbourhoods settled by Italians, a bit like New York´s Little Italy -- where, by the way, I have relatives. I was born and grew up in a proletarian neighbourhood that was ethnically characterized by this recent contribution from other cultures. I left 45 years ago, so it is perhaps adequate to remind you all of the verse of T.S. Eliot, "In my beginning is my end. (…) In my end is my beginning."

I am returning to my hometown after an absence of many years, and as I do so, as I prepare to retire, I remember that about 10 years ago, I was in the final stages of preparing to launch the new Brazilian currency. If you had been in Brazil at that time, you would have seen that the bills bear my signature, because it was during my term that the real was launched, on 1 July 1994. Later, I had to leave in the midst of a very painful episode for both my family and me, but of which I have no bitter memories. I see now, when I come back to my country, that the struggle in which I participated has been successful. Brazil was then a society torn apart by a most dangerous, chronic hyperinflation, and the country is now steadfastly committed to stability -- not as an end in itself, but as something that protects first and foremost the weakest members of society. Contrary to popular belief, the fight against inflation and the search for stability as a basis for sustained progress is not a banner of extreme conservative thought, but should be the basis for progressive policy. The current Government now shares this view, and this encourages me greatly.

As I prepare to retire from nine years with UNCTAD, I want to tell you that this experience brought me one of the highlights of my life, because I found in UNCTAD a very devoted body of people, people who were extremely diligent, capable and with tremendous capacity and willingness to work beyond all reasonable limits, giving the best of themselves -- people who really believe in the cause of development. I must add with great joy that many of those who are committed to the cause of development are not from developing countries; there are also many from Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries. This shows exactly what we are trying to build here: a world without divisions, without wars, without separations.

People sometimes say that UNCTAD has very little power as compared to the IMF, the World Bank or our sister organization, the WTO, and this is indeed true. We do not have the power of legally binding decisions or the money to give to countries, but we do have the power of ideas, the power of commitments, the power that comes from faith, and that should not be underestimated. It is the pride of UNCTAD to be ahead of the curve, trying to innovate and sometimes making mistakes, but nonetheless trying again and again to bring practical solutions to the problems faced by countries.

We are modest; we are indeed humble. We know that we are poor, and that perhaps brings us closer to the poor. I have always liked the psalm that says, "My heart is not proud, oh Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." I believe very much in the wisdom of this verse as I contemplate my two granddaughters, to whom I will now be able to devote more time. In closing, I just want to leave with you in the language of poetry -- which I think is the best language of all - what is perhaps the best possible message about the central human problem: the inequality of fate. This is an inequality that starts with birth. I find no better expression of that than a poem by William Blake, the great pre-Romantic English poet. In "Auguries of Innocence", Blake says, "Every night and every morn some to misery are born, every morn and every night some are born to sweet delight, some are born to sweet delight, some are born to endless night."

I don´t think that anyone else has expressed better this feeling that we have sometimes of injustice of fate. But he also says that we should keep in mind not to give in to despair. He says: "If the sun and moon should doubt, they´d immediately go out, to be in a passion you good may do, but no good if a passion is in you." And finally - this is really the end - he says: "To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour."

Thank you.

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