UNCTAD chief calls for bolder cooperation and investments amid global economic shifts

20 December 2023

Opening the Trade and Development Board, Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan highlighted pressing challenges facing the global economy and unveiled a new initiative for small island nations.

© Shutterstock/ThamKC | Foreign direct investment is an important source of capital for infrastructure projects like this raised mass transit train line.

UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan on 20 November addressed critical economic challenges like a global slowdown, declining investment and surging debt as she opened the organization’s Trade and Development Board, convening in Geneva in November for its 74th executive session.

She urged bolder international cooperation and more investment in sectors critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and accelerating climate action. Read her full statement.

Slowdown in global GDP and investment

UNCTAD projects global economic growth of 2.4% this year, down from 3% last year. Trade growth is expected to be even lower at 1%.

“This confirms a general trend where global trade is no longer the biggest engine of growth in the world economy,” Ms. Grynspan said.

The world economy also faces declining foreign direct investment, which fell by 12% globally in 2022.

The investment gap for developing countries to reach the SDGs is now estimated at $4 trillion, up from $2.5 trillion in 2015. This is even more alarming considering that 3.3 billion people now live in countries that pay more on debt servicing than on education and health.

Dire humanitarian and economic crisis in Palestine

Ms. Grynspan also presented the latest report on UNCTAD’s assistance to the Palestinian People.

“We do this in very trying times, where the conflict between Israel and Gaza brings unimaginable suffering to millions,” she said.

The report, which uses data from 2022, highlights the dire humanitarian and economic crisis that was present even before the current conflict. For example, the report reveals unemployment rates of 24% in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and 45% in Gaza.

Ms. Grynspan echoed UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

Africa’s potential as a high-tech trade hub

Focusing on Africa, Ms. Grynspan underscored the continent’s potential to become a high-tech trade hub, thanks to its abundance of minerals critical for green products like electric cars and solar panels.

"Africa's rich mineral resources are, almost literally, the new oil," she said.

These resources and Africa’s young, tech-savvy population offer a unique opportunity as global supply chains realign.

New framework for small island developing states

The UNCTAD chief also announced a new UNCTAD framework for technical assistance and capacity-building for small island developing states (SIDS).

A result of UNCTAD’s 15th ministerial conference hosted by Barbados in 2021, the framework will bolster SIDS’ productive capacities, transport infrastructure and digital connectivity.

"This UNCTAD strategy, if properly funded, may become a trailblazer in the way we cooperate with countries."