unctad.org | Link trade to sustainable development efforts, UNCTAD chief urges
Link trade to sustainable development efforts, UNCTAD chief urges
23 septiembre 2013

UNCTAD’s Secretary-General, just back from a week of meetings in New York, has told the Trade and Development Board that it is vital to focus on “how trade contributes to Post-2015 sustainable development goals”.​

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi was speaking at the annual Trade Day, which this year focused on the evolution of the international trading system and its trends from a development perspective.

He reviewed UNCTAD's history in harnessing trade as a force for progress in developing countries, and noted that new challenges now must be faced. "Although 700 million fewer people were living in extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990, some 1.2 billion people are still caught in that condition," he said.

"Trade has a key role to play as a potential enabler for sustainable development goals," Dr. Kituyi said. "This would imply adding some qualitative issues to the new goals, that go beyond the quantitative targets. As far as trade is concerned, they could include improving predictability, reducing policy conditionality, addressing fragmentation, and reducing the incidence of 'tied' aid."

"In the design of the post-2015 agenda, we need to know better what the conditions, policy mixes and best practices are to make use of trade as a means for sustainable development," he said.

Dr. Kituyi said that a series of meetings at United Nations Headquarters in New York had convinced him that UNCTAD should forge closer links with the global governance agenda there, and that he would like to set in motion a consultative process designed to contribute substantively to deliberations in New York. "I have already started to do so," he told the meeting.

"The process of examining how to link trade efforts to the United Nations sustainable development goals now being worked on cannot wait until next year's Trade and Development Board meeting," Dr. Kituyi said. He said that he intended setting up a smaller group drawing from UNCTAD member States to discuss the topic and to have proposals in place for the important meetings on the post-2015 programme that are to take place next April.

The Secretary-General highlighted the crucial role of Geneva, as the locus of trade expertise in the United Nations system. Accordingly, he intended inviting Amina Mohammed, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning, and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), to Geneva.

"What better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of UNCTAD than to have UNCTAD once again fully participate in the global governance agenda, as in the 1960s," he told the meeting.

Trade and Development Board President Triyono Wibowo, of Indonesia, said that the day's discussion could be framed by several questions. What has been the contribution of trade to the Millennium Development Goals campaign? How should trade contribute to achieving the post-2015 sustainable development agenda? And what role can UNCTAD and other trade-related stakeholders play in enhancing inclusive and sustainable development from trade?

Joakim Reiter, Ambassador of Sweden to the World Trade Organization, said that the post-2015 agenda was extremely important, and would have long-lasting effects. Among the factors now affecting global trade were ever-expanding global value chains; the growing influence of the Internet in spurring and easing trade; and the digital economy overall, which was a strong transformational force leading not only to increased trade and new ideas, but to entirely new forms of business. Money transferred via mobile banking now represented 20 per cent of the GDP of Kenya, for example.

"The opportunities are enormous, and linking developing countries into these trends in information and communication technology is critical and will become still more important in the coming years," Mr. Reiter said. "But the rapidity of change in the field of electronic commerce is also a serious challenge; it is hard for governments and businesses to keep up, and harder still for those who are now marginalized to join in. Attention has to be paid to reducing trade barriers as they apply to electronic commerce," he said, "and to how they affect not only conglomerates but also small- and mid-sized companies, and even individuals."

Simon Cleasby, Chief Executive Officer of Addax Bioenergy, told the meeting that the firm was a major investor in sustainable bioenergy in Africa. Much of the international reaction to biofuels efforts had been distorted and had misrepresented the biofuels industry, he said. There was a risk that such opposition "will deny Africa the opportunity to advance through industrialization to a better life."

Bioenergy as an investment into Africa "offers benefits beyond just greenhouse gas emissions reductions," Mr. Cleasby said. "It can uplift farming practices, and improve the sustainability of soils," he said, resulting in increased yields that produce more food, offering alternatives to moving to cities for unemployed youth, helping African countries develop infrastructure, and assisting in reducing post-harvest losses - "because in Africa up to 60 per cent of grains are lost or wasted before being consumed." He said that it could also generate foreign-exchange earnings from exports, and improve energy independence. Mr. Cleasby told the meeting that Addax Bioenergy had developed an investment model that addressed the question of agro-industrial development in a sustainable way, and that was founded on respect for the environment, the establishment of food security, respect and dialogue with communities, and shared wealth creation through local development.

Mark Halle, Director of the Trade and Investment Programme at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said that the issues under discussion were complex, but extremely important to the future of humanity. "An open and forward-looking agenda is exactly what we need now, rather than being stuck facing the challenges of yesterday." Concepts of trade had recently shifted, he said, "from valuing it as practical means of economic growth to looking at it as a way of achieving the higher, more difficult goal of sustainable development."

"But what do you do if trade is not taking the world in that direction?" Mr. Halle asked. "The Doha Round of trade negotiations was dedicated to development. That is one of the reasons why Doha has been so hard to conclude," he said. "The questions are still being asked, and people are still struggling to answer: How do we do it? The question is what do we do differently now, either with the trade negotiations or in setting development goals, to help countries in their prospects for development?" Mr. Halle told the meeting that among other things, more perspective should come from the bottom up. High-level aspirational discourse had not yielded results; a real-world anchor was needed when international measures were being considered. In addition, extremely precise and detailed knowledge was needed when dealing with such topics as trade subsidies. Finally, once measures were decided upon, there should be accountability for carrying them out, he said.

Aurelio Parisotto, Senior Economist at the Multilateral Cooperation Department of the International Labour Organization, said "there is a widespread recognition that the question of jobs - decent jobs - should feature prominently in any new framework of development goals." He went on to say that better job opportunities were among the top three priorities identified by nearly 800,000 participants in the Myworld 2015 global survey, and that jobs were a particular concern among younger respondents to the survey as well as among respondents from poorer countries. "Therefore, the suggestion from the consultations that the post-2015 agenda should have a stand-alone goal on employment, with targets and indicators appropriate to the labour market circumstances, is not a surprise," Mr. Parisotto said. "The development community must give a response to the pressing demand for more and better jobs."

"A focused and effective commitment in the new agenda to support the creation of more and better jobs also reflects wider concern over the need for development policies that improve the quality of economic growth," Mr. Parisotto told the meeting. "Better assessments are needed on the impact of trade on employment and the environment," he said.

Guillermo Valles, Director of UNCTAD's Division on International Trade in Goods and Services, and Commodities, reviewing trends in global trade, said that world trade and developing-country trade had climbed dramatically over the past decade, led by South-South trade. Despite that progress, however, the integration of developing nations into the global economy had varied widely, and export growth had mainly been driven by an increase in the value of existing trade patterns. A serious concern was that many developing countries had limited varieties of exports. Diversification of exports, which reduced vulnerability and indicated more robust and sustainable economic progress, had been difficult for many of those nations to achieve, Mr. Valles said.

He also reported a trend towards "re-commoditization" among developing countries, and an intensification of the value-chain phenomenon whereby products went through numerous intermediate stages in different countries before they were finally sold as end products. The increasing fragmentation of value chains was mainly occurring in developed countries and in East Asia, Mr. Valles noted. This shift, and major trends in trade policy, were resulting in a very complex international trading system. Although reductions continued to be made to tariffs, tariffs remained relevant "in sectors of key interest for low-income countries." "Along with the decline in tariffs has come a rise in non-tariff measures that can limit trade - measures that can include such issues as health standards and working conditions, Mr. Valles said. "And there has also been an increase in trade defence measures."

The chief challenge was to take steps so that trade could act as a catalyst or enabler of other sustainable development goals, such as eradicating poverty, ensuring inclusive growth and employment, achieving food security and better education, promoting gender equality, and fostering environmentally sustainable development, Mr. Valles told the meeting. It was important to contribute to the global debate on the post-2015 framework by clarifying the conceptual linkages between trade and sustainable development goals, he said, "and by exploring under which conditions and through which transmission mechanisms trade is an engine of growth and sustainable development."


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