The phenomena of globalization and liberalization have reinforced the utility of UNCTAD, the international body with the most universal membership. As nations struggle to understand, and come to grips with, the impact of global trends and other powerful forces beyond their control, they should fully exploit the possibilities offered by UNCTAD, its Secretary-General, Mr. Rubens Ricupero, said today.
Mr. Ricupero was addressing today´s opening session of the annual Trade and Development Board (TDB), attended by delegates from many of UNCTAD´s 188 member States. The TDB will run from 13 to 24 October
As he had stated last month in Hong Kong at the World Bank/IMF annual meeting, Mr. Ricupero considered that a serious change in perception had already taken place regarding a number of Asian economies - to the effect that not even the most spectacular, rapid and continuous growth performance for decades was a guarantee of immunization against the risks of sudden and serious setbacks. He said this confirmed the analysis in UNCTAD´s Trade and Development Report 1997 (TDR 97) that, while the opportunities arising from greater resource and trade flows were real, only a few developing countries had so far been able to benefit from them for a period long enough to help close the gap in living standards with the advanced countries
"Greater international flows of goods, finance and investment associated with globalization are not the only basis on which the development process should be judged", Mr. Ricupero stated. "The ultimate objective of development policy is raising living standards for everybody. Measuring economic performance should thus pay greater heed to growth and distribution than has so far been the case." Qualitative development efforts should be placed back at the centre of the development agenda, as the basis for the design, implementation and assessment of sound economic policy, both nationally and globally. "The business of UNCTAD is development. Not only for a few, but for all men, and for man as a whole", the Secretary-General stated.
In his address today to the TDB, Mr. Ricupero pointed out that "it takes a multilateral body with a universal membership and a mandate like ours, to examine the interdependent nature of complex economic phenomena, to make sense of the confusion and propose appropriate measures to policymakers".
Taking stock of the working of the organization´s intergovernmental machinery, 18 months after UNCTAD IX, he expressed satisfaction with the tangible and action-oriented recommendations of the expert meetings. He urged government representatives to make sure that these "high-quality recommendations reach policy-makers and the private sector at the country level, and are not just filed for future meetings".
However, Mr. Ricupero considered that the experience so far with respect to the UNCTAD Commissions had been mixed. He stressed that both member States and the Secretariat had a key role to play. "While the latter helps provide a vision, the former must demonstrate political commitment to reach action-oriented outcomes with a fair degree of policy content".
Introducing the main topics on the Board´s agenda, the Secretary-General pointed out that the policy implications of the phenomenon of the globalization of competition in markets for both traded and non-traded goods would be central to the debate. This theme would run through the discussions on interdependence, on Africa and on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). It would also form the core topic for both the High-Level Segment of the Board on 23 October (see TAD/INF/PR/9722) and the Raúl Prebish lecture to be delivered by Professor Dani Rodrik of Harvard University on 24 October (see TAD/INF/PR/9721).
Mr. Ricupero expressed the hope that the Board would make headway in identifying policy considerations which would help policy-makers everywhere to meet the challenge of making globalization compatible with domestic social and political stability. UNCTAD´s message, he said, was that globalization carried the potential for raising living standard´s worldwide, provided action was taken at the global and national levels, aimed at a more equal distribution of its benefits.
As regards Africa, UNCTAD´s analysis showed that there was a requirement for significant public investment in infrastructure which, if accompanied by the right policies, would help lay the basis for the recovery of private investment and a process of diversification. A sine qua non for such a process, Mr. Ricupero stressed, was the removal of balance of payments constraints and the provision of debt relief to African countries.
Referring to the link between UNCTAD´s work and that of other UN bodies, such as UNHCR, whose Executive Committee is also meeting in Geneva this week, the UNCTAD Secretary-General drew attention to the situation in the LDCs. Citing examples given in the Least Developed Countries 1997 Report, he pointed out that most of the States with internal conflict were also those with an economy in regress. The civil war in Liberia had reduced the country´s GDP by more than 75% between 1989 and 1993; GDP per capita in Mozambique had fallen by 50% between 1980 and 1984; while over one quarter and one third respectively of the populations of Rwanda and Sierra Leone were either refugees or internally displaced persons. All these countries were also in economic regress.
Turning to the High-Level Meeting on LDCs, to be organized by the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 27 - 28 October, Mr. Ricupero informed the Board that, from the onset, UNCTAD had actively contributed to its preparations. UNCTAD would also remain actively involved in the meeting itself, for instance through chairing the two thematic Roundtables. He said he hoped that the international community would give the necessary support to UNCTAD for it to help the LDCs create the infrastructure required to seize opportunities arising from globalization.
Ambasador Goce Petreski of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was formally elected Chairman of the Board. The Board also elected 10 vice-Presidents: Mr. Michael Ray Arietti (United States of America); H.E. Mrs. Anne Anderson (Ireland); H.E. Mr. Dhumahdass Baichoo (Mauritius); H.E. Mr. Nacer Benjelloun-Touimi (Morocco); H.E. Mrs. Eveline Herfkens (The Netherlands); H.E. Mr. Anthony Hill (Jamaica); H.E. Mr. Vasili Siderov (Russian Federation); H.E. Mr. Gilberto Vergne Saboia (Brazil); H.E. Mr. Bozorgmehr Ziaran (Islamic Republic of Iran); and, H.E. Mr. Björn Skogmo (Norway). Mr. Sek Wannamethee of Thailand was elected Rapporteur.
The Board established two Sessional Committees and elected their respective chairmen. Sessional Committee I will focus on issues related to the LDCs and will be chaired by H.E. Mr. Daniel Bernard of France. Sessional Commitee II will focus on issues related to Africa and will be chaired by H.E. Mrs. Agnes Yahan Aggrey-Orleans of Ghana.