Fostering active international solidarity with the Palestinians, Solidifying the economic underpinnings of an independent State
[AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY]
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be with you today and take part in this Seminar on solidifying the economic underpinnings of an independent Palestinian State. I am also pleased that UNCTAD can contribute to the activities of the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
Before proceeding, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Palestinian people on the recent formation of the Palestinian National Consensus Government. I am confident that this is a solid step forward in the search for prosperity of Palestine.
As many of you know, UNCTAD is one of the very first international agencies to have a programme dedicated to the economic development and welfare of the Palestinian people. Our work in support of the Palestinian people started in the early 1980s with the establishment of a specialized unit, now called "Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit". At the beginning, our work was focused on the impact of the restrictions imposed on the economy of the occupied Palestinian territory.
However, after the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994, our work was expanded to include policy analysis and advice, advisory services to the Palestinian Authority and the private sector, and technical cooperation project to support the Palestinian efforts to build the capacities of the public and private sectors. Our support to the Palestinian people extends to cover all areas of UNCTAD competencies which include, finance and development strategies, foreign direct investment, trade facilitation and logistics, enterprise development, and competition policy.
Let me now briefly turn to our assessment of the recent performance of the Palestinian economy. The economic growth in the occupied Palestinian territory declined from an average of 11 per cent in 2010 and 2011 to a mere 1.5 per cent in 2013. As a result, real per capita income declined, and unemployment, poverty and food-insecurity worsened. In addition, the Palestinian fiscal crisis deepened further in 2013 and is not expected to improve in 2014. The policy space available for the Palestinian National Authority to address the employment crisis is shrinking and the on-going Palestinian fiscal crisis implies that the public sector, which currently employs 23 per cent of the workforce, cannot be relied on to absorb the growing work force.
But this gloomy economic outlook is not a reason to despair. On the contrary, it is a reason to pool our strengths to support the efforts of the Palestinian people.
On our side, and taking into account the particularities of the political context, UNCTAD is committed to step up its efforts to provide advice and assistance to the Palestinian National Authorities. Let me give you some concrete examples.
Since 2000, UNCTAD has been working with the Palestinian Ministry of Finance to build the capacity of the national customs authority. This is an essential capacity for the sovereignty of Palestine, and we are proud to say that the Palestinian Authority has adopted UNCTAD's ASYCUDA system which is now the backbone of Palestinian customs. Here I would like to also add that UNCTAD is ready to resume its cooperation with the Palestinian National Authority to extend and introduce the ASYCUDA system to border crossing in the Gaza Strip.
In the area of trade facilitation, a current hot topic in the international agenda, UNCTAD is working with the Palestinian Shippers Sector to strengthening Palestinian private and public trade facilitation capacities.
In the areas of economic statistics, our cooperation with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) resulted in the establishment of the "Economic Analysis and Forecast Unit" in PCBS and the production of an annual official Palestinian economic forecast.
In the capacity-building front, in cooperation with the UN Division for Palestinian Rights, every year we train two Palestinian staff from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of National Economy, on issues related to the UN system, its functions and scopes.
There is one last point I would like to make today, and it regards financing. The temporary lack of progress in some areas should not result in donor fatigue. On the contrary, donors would need to scale their support up, not down, to offset the negative economic impact of political uncertainty.
In this context, the support to the Palestinian National Authorities from the international donor community is crucial, not only to finance particular technical assistance projects, but also to mobilise the resources required for the successful implementation of the 2014-2016 National Development Plan as well as to support the ambitious "Initiative for the Palestinian Economy", announced last year by the Office of the Quartet Representative.
In concluding, I would like to stress that UNCTAD will continue to stand ready to provide any support we could extend to the Palestinian people to build the capacities required for the efficient management of their economy and their search for a path of economic prosperity.
I wish you a very successful seminar. Thank you very much.