unctad.org | “Transformation for Prosperity? 50 Years of Continuity and Change”
Statement by Mr. Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
“Transformation for Prosperity? 50 Years of Continuity and Change”
22 May 2014

Welcome to this event celebrating the 50th anniversary of UNCTAD in which we will reflect on the topic of "Transformation for Prosperity? 50 years of continuity and change."

I would like to begin with some thoughts which I hope will help to set the stage for our panel discussion.

In 1964, when United Nations member States gathered in Geneva for UNCTAD I, they called for "a better and more effective system of international economic co-operation, whereby the division of that world into areas of poverty and plenty may be banished and prosperity achieved by all."

At that time, newly independent countries sought to take control of their own development pathways. Many of them believed that trade represented a promising means to that end. They wanted a forum where rich and poor countries could come together and engage in a dialogue on how to address the imbalances of the global economy, level the playing field and make sure that developing countries would not forever remain on the margins of the global economy, but also partake in the benefits of global trade.

In those days, trade and economic relations reflected a sharp distinction between North and South. Trade perpetuated a skewed and biased international division of labour. Newly independent countries relied on exports of raw materials to their former colonial masters, and in turn, imported high-value-added manufactured goods from them.

So with the establishment of UNCTAD, the universal membership of the United Nations explicitly embraced an inclusive and forward-thinking development perspective.

Since that time, working with its member states, UNCTAD has strived to create a world economy that serves the interests of all. It has pursued this goal through its analytical research and innovative policy proposals; through its inter-governmental negotiations and consensus-building; and through technical cooperation with developing countries to support their efforts to benefit from globalization. Or in the short-hand we sometimes like to use, our work is to: think, debate, deliver.

UNCTAD's independent thinking has in many ways challenged the way we perceive and practice development. It has made a significant contribution to informing and shaping the global development agenda, as well as building national capacities.

A few of the areas where our ideas have made a difference include:

  • The Generalized System of Preferences, which helped launch many of today's industrialized developing economies.

  • The creation of the Least Developed Country category, which recognized the special needs of small or vulnerable economies.

  • The establishment of targets for official development assistance, which was translated into a commitment within the Millennium Development Goals and supported the scaling up of aid flows.

  • In addition, UNCTAD supported Paris Club debt renegotiations and devised sustainable debt mechanisms. We issued early warnings on financial crises and global capital flow spillovers. Today we are identifying new policies for south-south trade, to take note of the very different global environment that exists today compared to 50 years ago.

The world has changed profoundly in these past fifty years. The divisions between North and South have blurred. A number of emerging countries have enjoyed unprecedented growth performance, helping to reduce dramatically the share of the global population living in extreme poverty.

Nonetheless, many of the broader concerns of developing countries that animated discussions in 1964 are still with us today, even if some of these are reflected in new challenges. Such concerns include:

  • Continued poverty, despite the reductions in extreme poverty. Many people are living just above the extreme poverty level and are vulnerable to shocks or crises.

  • Growing inequality within and across countries.

  • The danger of financial crises and volatility.

  • The fact that a number of least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small-island developing states have remained at the margins of the world economy.

  • Threats posed by climate change, food insecurity and conflict.

The greater interdependence that characterizes today's world implies that many of these problems and challenges affect all of us - including developed countries and strong performing developing countries. Demand for the UN system to deliver global public goods that can help overcome these challenges has never been more important.

This is why when we look at the development framework for after 2015 development agenda, we are talking about an agenda that is transformative. By this we mean an agenda that addresses the need for development that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. This agenda needs to create conditions that will allow more countries to achieve the kind of "virtuous circles" of productive investment, rising incomes, poverty reduction and expanding markets that bring about lasting economic and social transformation.

This means setting the goals and targets that are designed to deliver sustainable and inclusive development. It also means including in this post 2015 agenda the means for implementing these goals and targets.

UNCTAD can contribute to this process in a number of ways. In New York, we are closely supporting the activities of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals. Together with the World Bank, UNCTAD is co-leading the group of agencies working on "means of implementation" for the SDGs. In Geneva, including through the informal Geneva Dialogues we are organizing, we are looking at how trade can act better as an enabler of economic development.

On the wider front, the kind of policies needed to support truly sustainable development are very much in line with the flexible and innovative approach that UNCTAD has pursued in the past 50 years. For example, more recently UNCTAD's work has evolved from North-South relations and problems to have a greater focus on inter-dependence, not only inter-dependence between all the countries of the globe, but also across the different sectors that make up the global economy.

When UNCTAD looks at the big forces that sustain growth and development - capital formation, economic diversification technological upgrading, etc. - the countries that have been most successful have designed strategic interventions that direct those forces towards creative and productive outcomes that help to lift all boats. These have not been one-size-fits-all, but rather tailored to specific national needs.

So as we mark our 50 years, UNCTAD must continue with our independent thinking, while at the same time listening and learning from the experiences of both developing and developed countries. In this spirit, I look forward to hearing innovative and stimulating ideas on the way forward - both for UNCTAD and the global post-2015 development agenda.


Please wait....