The UNCTAD Global Services Forum (GSF), which is to take place in Beijing on 28 and 29 May, will bring together government leaders, including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, and - it is expected - other Heads of State, to discuss how to boost developing-country services capacities. A major point of debate will be how to harness the services sector to spur broad-based economic growth that can significantly reduce poverty and enhance the inclusiveness of economic progress.
Services made up 66 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011, but only 51 per cent of the GDPs of developing nations. In industrialized nations, they accounted for 74 per cent, showing that a major gap must still be closed. In 2012, services exports amounted to US$4.4 trillion worldwide - an increase of 1.2 per cent from 2011, a year that had registered a robust 11 per cent growth from the year before. Just over 30 per cent of such exports came from developing countries. While these exports have been growing, the dominant position of developed countries in services trade makes it clear that poorer nations must make up ground. And services exports provide resilience too - they were affected less by the global recession, and they recovered more fully from it.
The GSF will take place concurrently with the second China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS), which runs from 28 May to 1 June. The GSF has been organized by UNCTAD in cooperation with the Ministry of Commerce of the People's Republic of China and the People's Government of Beijing Municipality.
The timing of the GSF is opportune, as it coincides with several other global gatherings that will consider development strategies as the finish date for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals approaches.
UNCTAD, based on its own research and on the results of the Millennium Development Goals campaign, has been recommending that international efforts to spur economic progress and reduce poverty in poor nations should place greater emphasis on expanding such countries' productive capacities - that is, the ability of their economies to produce marketable goods and services of greater variety, value and complexity. Healthy and growing services sectors are vital for expanding productive capacity, and UNCTAD contends that productive improvements are the most effective and durable method for increasing employment and reducing poverty.
The Forum's schedule of events includes the 29 May CIFTIS-GSF Leaders' Summit featuring addresses by Premier Li Keqiang, by other Heads of State, and by UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will be sending a written message to the Summit.
The Forum Summit will take place on 29 May, with the participation of numerous government ministers from around the world.
These high-level debates will be preceded on 28 May by four panel sessions featuring experts from government, the business world, and academia. The panel sessions will discuss services and job creation; services and value added; the building of supply and export capacity, including by outsourcing services; and creating and promoting partnerships, with a focus on creative services.
The aims of the GSF are to raise awareness of the importance of the services sector for developing-country economies, and to advance the development agenda as it relates to services. Another intention is to give experts and government and business leaders the opportunity to strengthen and expand networks of cooperation and knowledge-sharing, as they search for innovative policies, new partnerships and "best-fit" practices.
In addition, it is expected that a Services Vision Council will be established during the Forum. The Council would be composed of senior representatives of the private and public sectors, and would meet once a year. It would provide guidance on the preparation of future GSF sessions, and would offer government leaders, business executives, and academics an informal and flexible framework for discussing topical issues relating to services.
It is also expected that UNCTAD will launch - during the course of the GSF - the now-completed Services Policy Review (SPR) of Lesotho. UNCTAD carries out SPRs at the request of developing-country governments. Work is also being initiated on a ninth SPR, which will focus on Bangladesh. SPRs systematically assess the economic, regulatory, institutional, and trade policy environments characterizing national services sectors, and offer recommendations on how to expand services and harness them to create jobs and raise living standards.
UNCTAD's work on services
UNCTAD has been a pioneer in conceptualization, policy analysis and consensus-building in the area of services, trade and development. It carries out numerous activities and programmes designed to help developing countries expand their services economies and trade. These range from carrying out analytical work, including SPRs; to hosting multi-year expert meetings, particularly on regulatory and institutional aspects of infrastructure services; to assisting countries in their participation in regional and multilateral trade negotiations.