UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi launched the Global Commodities Forum on Friday morning then the Civil Society Forum in the afternoon, saying UNCTAD14 had officially started and noting the enormous challenges to achieving prosperity for all.
As the meetings opened at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in downtown Nairobi, for example, many in developing countries are wondering how to soften the impact of falling commodity prices.
Between 2004 and 2011, the 96 developing countries classified by UNCTAD as commodity-dependent had enjoyed an average annual growth rate of 5%. But falling commodity prices since then have made life difficult for many who depend on commodities.
And while many leaders are asking how they can diversify their economies away from a dependence on commodities such as oil and gas, Dr. Kituyi noted another set of issues.
"Beyond looking at how do we diversify, we must also look at how do we stem those illicit financial flows," he said, noting that illicit financial flows out of Africa were about the same as investment going in.
"It is at least as important to stop the theft of Africa's resources as it is to find new investment," he said.
New research commissioned by UNCTAD and presented at the Global Commodities Forum shows that some countries lose as much as 67 percent of their exports to trade misinvoicing.
Some at the Forum argue that agricultural commodities represent an excellent development opportunity, generating jobs and other income opportunities. Kenyan participants said their country is one of the world's largest exporters of both tea and coffee, engaging as many as 1.3 million farmers.
But equitable growth in Africa and elsewhere still faces an uphill task. Dr. Kituyi told the Civil Society Forum that to end extreme poverty by 2030, the time horizon for the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), least developed countries (LDCs) will have to sustain an average 10% annual growth for the next 15 years.
By supporting developing countries on the issues of trade, finance, investment, and technology, UNCTAD has a key role to play in supporting developing countries to access the benefits of globalization and protect against the downsides.
In this, and in their deliberations over the coming days, civil society have a key role to play, he said.
"We look to you to continue to be trusted partners, and we are committed to being your trusted partner, facilitating policy dialogue between civil society and our membership," he said.