Delivery of the sustainable development agenda was in the spotlight as experts at the Public Symposium identified policy measures that could significantly reduce inequality in the near future.
The Zero draft of the sustainable development goals includes the goal of reducing inequality between and within nations. Current and two former UNCTAD Secretary-Generals, ambassadors, and civil society leaders examined the delivery of that goal at the final session of the Symposium.
Helping commodity dependent countries to capture more resource rents was top of the list for UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi. The extractive economy operated as a "silo" in many countries, with rents leaving the economy instead of being invested in social development.
"Many commodity-dependent countries are experiencing high growth, but little development," he said. "There are countries with a GDP per capita of $15,000, with the social indicators of a country with GDP per capita of $300." Mechanisms for these countries to capture more rents from their commodity sectors, and to build organic linkages with other parts of the economy, were critical to sustainable development.
Official Development Assistance (ODA) remains an important weapon in the fight against global poverty, said Mr Kituyi. "Everyone says it is becoming a secondary player, because of the rapid growth of Foreign Direct Investment," he said. "But it is the most important instrument… for the most vulnerable among us." Other panellists agreed that ODA was critical, particularly for Least Developed Countries.
Dr Kituyi's immediate predecessor as UNCTAD Secretary-General, Supachai Panitchpakdi, pointed out that inequality between countries accounts for a large proportion of global inequality. An obvious way to redistribute income from rich to poor countries was to make it easier and cheaper for migrants to send remittances back home.
From left to right: Mr. Rubens Ricupero, Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi and Mr. Supachai Panitchpakdi
World Bank figures show that annual remittance flows to developing countries, at $350 billion, are almost three times bigger than ODA flows to developing countries.
Rubens Ricupero, another former UNCTAD Secretary-General and former Finance Minister of Brazil, spoke of a "deep crisis" in international organisations, and a lack of will to try new courses of action. One way to galvanise multilateral organisations was to bring civil society in, "not just for consultation but for something more organic."
He described UNCTAD as the "conscience" of the development agenda and so, "we need reinforcement from civil society".
Iara Petricovsky, Co-Director of Brazil's Instituto De Estudos Socióeconomicos, focused on tax policy. Global wealth was now concentrated in such a narrow elite that the power of nation states to set policies in the interests of the wider population was compromised.
The priority for the global community should be to crack down on tax havens and to implement fairer, progressive tax systems. Raising revenue domestically was the only sustainable way to fund development, she said.
Farmers in developing countries were "Playing a game in which they had no say in setting the rules," said James Mwai, Director of Programmes at Fair Trade Africa. Fair Trade Africa's model showed that producers can be visible in global supply chains: its 700,000 members were involved in decision-making processes, and the "social, environmental and financial metrics" for doing business were clearly transparent to everyone. Total sales of Fair Trade Africa products in 2012 were Euros 1.4 billion.
Other policies discussed included subsidies for renewable energy and incentivising small scale mining. Abdul Samad Minty, South Africa's Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said that agriculture was a priority for African countries, in particular building up domestic producers to address the food security needs of their population.
All three Secretary-Generals emphasized the important role that civil society organisations have played in the work of UNCTAD, and had each taken steps to strengthen civil society involvement during their tenure. The relationship was more important than ever, said Mr Ricupero: "The strength of UNCTAD lies more in civil society than elsewhere,"