unctad.org | Trade and Development Board, 61st session - High-level Segment on Tackling inequality through trade and development: A post-2015 challenge
Statement by Mr. Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
Trade and Development Board, 61st session - High-level Segment on Tackling inequality through trade and development: A post-2015 challenge
Geneva
14 Sep 2014

[AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY]

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Distinguished Colleagues,

It is no accident that the first substantive discussion of this year's Trade and Development Board focuses on tackling the issue of inequality, particularly on how we can do so through what we all hope will be a transformative and ambitious post-2015 development agenda.

The unequal distribution of income and wealth is today spurring public debate in a manner unseen in more than a generation. Across the world, people with different backgrounds and beliefs increasingly agree that inequality is not only unjust, but also counter productive. As a leading analyst said recently, a global system that comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted can no longer be tolerated.

Over the past year we've witnessed the surprise success of Thomas Piketty's book, Capital in the 21st Century. We've also heard the startling statistic from Oxfam that the world's 85 wealthiest citizens own more than the bottom three and a half billion people. Recently Pope Francis mobilized world leaders and international experts around the need for reform to combat what he called "the globalization of indifference" in order to "put people and their wellbeing at the centre of economic and political life" in response to the glaring inequalities that we face in today's world.

Today there truly is a broad realization by society as a whole that unsustainable economic practices leading to the overaccumulation of wealth are not only unfair, but can bring stagnation and conflict.

The current proposal for Sustainable Development Goals, which will soon be taken up by United Nations Members in New York, also reflect this realization with proposed Goal 10 on reducing inequality within and among countries by 2030.

For us at UNCTAD, building this consensus on inequality reflects a fifty year effort. When UNCTAD was founded fifty years ago here in Geneva, our Member States specifically called on: "the division of the world into areas of poverty and plenty (to) be banished and prosperity achieved by all."

The new global economy has brought with it both immense hopes but equally immense inequities. A half-century after UNCTAD's founding, we have seen promising declines in inequality between countries as some developing countries have experienced strong growth and have begun to close the gap between themselves and the richest countries. But compared to 50 years ago, today inequality within countries has risen in a startling number of countries - both rich and poor.

Indeed, today some individuals are now as wealthy as entire countries. Globalization - which enabled poverty to be cut in half world-wide over the past 20 years - has acted as a double-edged sword, leaving behind the less well-off both in the poorest countries and in the advanced economies as well.

UNCTAD has an important advisory role to play in this regard. To reduce inequalities in our Member States, we must help ensure that trade serves as an enabler not a disabler, that finance is constructive and not destructive, and that technological progress serves the interests of all segments of society. Well thought-out national development strategies are needed to ensure this, particularly in the least developed countries and in Africa.

I believe our discussions today can offer further guidance on where and how to achieve these goals. We have valuable perspectives around the table from academia, from national governments and from international organizations. I look forward not only to the insights that come out of this discussion today, but also to the practical recommendations of how policy can best be used both nationally and internationally to tackle this egregious problem of rising inequality.

Thank you.


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