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Mindful Monday 23: To be commodity rich is a double-edged sword

13 September 2021

By Isabelle Durant, Deputy Secretary-General, UNCTAD

“To be commodity rich is a double-edged sword, often too heavy to handle, often wielded by powers outside our control.” The impactful remarks were made today by Rebeca Grynspan at the opening of the Global Commodities Forum (GCF), her inaugural event as UNCTAD’s newly appointed secretary-general.

“From inequality and vulnerability to prosperity for all,” is the theme of UNCTAD15, and will be hosted on the special UNCTAD15 virtual multi-lingual platform connecting sessions from  Geneva and Barbados, a convening mode that has become necessary during the pandemic upheaval. Participants will access the Virtual Conference Center, fully supported and guided through the sessions, meetings rooms, beach café and more.

At the Forum today, which focuses on “Strengthening resilience in commodity-dependent countries”, Ms. Grynspan brought reflections from experience as a native Latin American as well as insights into the real challenges and breakthroughs of trading commodities. She cited the considerable success story of coffee and bananas which used to account for 88 per cent of Costa Rica’s total exports, noting that the figure is now about 11.5 per cent, surpassed by medical devices, now the country’s main export.

Launched in 2010, the GCF is a precursor to UNCTAD15 and an important anchor for discussions to follow. The Conference is a platform where a diversity of leaders and stakeholders debate, innovate and troubleshoot on production and trade challenges.

Commodity-dependent economies often bear the brunt of global crises, as evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic in which commodity exports shrunk dramatically. Likewise, the financial crises of 2007-2008 harmed many countries due to their dependence on food and fuel imports or price shortfalls on the export of commodities. 

Escaping the “dependence trap” entails finding solutions for trade and development while building the resilience to withstand future shocks and go “beyond prevention, and into preparation,” as SG Grynspan put it. Getting back on track to meet sustainable development goals entails tackling tangible issues such as grains supply and water use efficiency, is among the topics that panellists will discuss.

The forum’s first session is dedicated to agriculture, with a focus on the policy actions required to ensure food security, while the second session will examine the challenges to access water in the 21st century. The third and fourth sessions will explore issues related to energy commodities and minerals, with a focus on energy transitions. And finally, it will feature a high-level roundtable on strengthening resilience. More information is available on the forum webpage. 

The GCF is the first of the five forums leading up to UNCTAD15, which is being held from 3 to 7 October 2021, and is organised jointly with the Government of Barbados. The GCF opened in Room 17 today in the Palais des Nations, Geneva.

Join us in the virtual conference centre.