The three-day meeting, which concludes on 28 June, has a special focus on Africa.
UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, introducing the topic, noted that African economies had been growing by roughly 5 per cent per year, and that such progress was expected to continue. He said that the issue was not growth per se, but rather "quality" growth that shared its benefits broadly, left countries on the continent less vulnerable to shocks, created jobs, was self-sustaining, and improved conditions of life for young people and for urban populations.
"Aside from food security, one of our top priorities year after year is Africa," Dr. Supachai said. "If progress can't be made there, despite widespread global efforts to spur development, then we fail," he said.
He reviewed several UNCTAD efforts focusing on Africa, including the findings and recommendations of the organization's annual Economic Development in Africa Report. The 2013 report will be published on 11 July, and centres on the theme of intra-African trade, which the study identifies as a source of major untapped potential.
Dr. Supachai said that African governments, working together, had taken several significant steps in recent years to boost progress. For example, they had strived to keep their trade regimes open, which had led to sustainable growth in African trade volume, despite the fact the cyclical trends, such as those related to commodities, had turned against them. In addition, Dr. Supachai said that "African countries have shown macroeconomic discipline that has enabled them to maintain growth despite the global financial crisis. And they have reduced inflation."
"Results over the last few years have shown that African countries have succeeded in attracting growing foreign direct investment (FDI), even as FDI has been declining worldwide," the Secretary-General told the meeting.
"Another hopeful trend is South-South cooperation," Dr. Supachai said. "Such joint efforts are now expanding from investment and trade to greater instances of technology transfer."
"Overall," he said, "the engines of economic development for Africa are forging ahead."
He told the meeting that a major challenge now was structural transformation of African economies - that is to say, expanding industry and overall productive capacity - while sustaining the environment.
Taffere Tesfachew, Director of UNCTAD's Division for Africa, Least Developed Countries and Special Programmes (ALDC) then introduced a report detailing UNCTAD's activities in support of Africa, noting that such work occurred not only within ALDC but throughout the organization. He also said that UNCTAD worked closely with other organizations, including the African Union and the Economic Commission for Africa, to spur economic progress on the continent.