1st Global Supply Chain Forum (Opening Ceremony)

Statement by Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

1st Global Supply Chain Forum (Opening Ceremony)

Bridgetown, Barbados
21 May 2024

Your excellency, Mia Motley, Prime Minister of Barbados, and our most gracious host, thank you so much.

In fact, you know, this event started with a conversation with the Prime Minister of Barbados, after our ministerial conference, where she asked two things – she asked for UNCTAD to be much more engaged with the Small Island Developing States. And now, because of that we have the first strategy ever with SIDS that UNCTAD has put together. We were in the middle of the pandemic then, we forgot. And so, we were talking about the huge challenges that the SIDS and the islands face because of logistics. So, the idea of the forum came about, and that’s why we are having this forum, but also not the last, because what we want to do, what we intend to do, is to have this as the first, but as really a tradition for us for the future.

And here, we will already be announcing today where the next forum will be. So be with us and be free to have that announcement very soon.

I want to also thank Amina Mohamed, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, a dear friend, for being here. Amina, it means a lot. Thank you so much.

We have delegates and authorities from many countries. You have come from far away, so really thank you for being with us.

Excellency, this is really an honor for us.

And also our colleagues form the UN that are here with us, thank you so much for coming, for being here, and for making this event even more important with your presence.

Ambassadors, Authorities, Distinguished Delegates, Excellences, dear friends,

It is my honor and pleasure to be here in the first ever Global Supply Chain Forum, an event of special pertinence to the world we face today. 

Recent years have exposed the alarming fragility of what we once took for granted –in this case, the steady flow of goods and materials across continents, through intricate webs of infrastructure and logistics.  

The COVID-19 pandemic, whose dire economic impact no person here in Barbados needs any reminder, laid bare these vulnerabilities.  

Lockdowns severed vital production lines, empty shipping containers piled up in the wrong places, and maritime costs skyrocketed, turbocharging inflation around the globe but very specially in Small Island Developing States. According to our research, higher maritime costs have five times the impact on inflation in SIDS than in the rest of the world. Five times. Five hundred per cent.

Then came the war in Ukraine, which for five months sealed the great Black Sea grain corridor, bringing food prices to heights never recorded in modern history, until in July 2022,  the UN-and Türkiye brokered the Black Sea Initiative and for a year re-opened that corridor, bringing the FAO food price index down by 23% and returning back some calm to food markets. 

As if that was not enough, then came the terrible crisis in the Middle East, and the attacks in the Red Sea, which forced many ships going from Asia to Europe and back to go down the old and winded route around the Cape of Good Hope. And then, lastly, at the other side of the world, a drought in the Panama Canal brought traffic down in that great other inter-oceanic corridor, stranding ships once more, or forcing them southwards to the Magellan straits, down there where South America almost meets Antarctica. 

In combination, according to our research, by February this year traffic in the Red Sea and the Panama Canal was cut by half.  

I have just visited the Panama Canal precisely to see with my own eyes what was happening. And they are really doing a great job in trying to take away the restriction and face the challenge. But you can see how climate change is really affecting the main roads of the world.

Yesterday, Prime Ministers, you were telling me that the Atlantic is the most affected because precisely the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal are to connect the one side with the other side of the ocean.

These disruptions also meant that ships spent more days at sea, emitting 70% more greenhouse gases. But more fundamentally they meant that our interconnected world became less reliable, and far less certain. 

Your excellencies, 

A greater, more fair, more sustainable, more inclusive story of globalization – and we at the UN believe one is possible – must start in the supply chains that we build to tell it.  

Three key words stand out here today, at the start of this Forum. Inclusivity. Sustainability. And resilience. 

On inclusivity – the global supply chains we want to build must be one where SMEs stand a fighting chance to share the benefits of trade in a way that is fair for all – in particular for women owned businesses and youth entrepreneurs. In this sense, the health of our chains must be measured not only by how long they are globally, but also by how deep they are locally. 

We must ask, where do our supply chains start? Do they start at the copper mine, or the oil field, or the cotton farm, to then take the high road to port and then to sea? Or do our chains start at the local schoolyard, where children receive healthy meals from locally produced ingredients? Do they start with the skilled artisan, whose products find buyers worldwide? Do they empower women to take their rightful place in the global economy?  

This is the essence of inclusive supply chains that build communities from the ground up, ensuring structural transformation, and fighting back against commodity dependence. 

But inclusivity also means ensuring that all countries, regardless of their size or economic status, have a voice in shaping global supply chains. Do our current trade agreements prioritize the interests of powerful nations over the needs of developing countries? Are we doing enough to support small island states and landlocked countries in accessing global markets? And perhaps most importantly, are we building supply chains that foster collaboration and shared prosperity, or are we simply perpetuating a system of winners and losers? 

And this is even more important today, Prime Minister, because today we see a rise in protectionism. We hear again industrial policy come into bear. We see also big countries integrating vertically that can really impact supply chains and the possibility of the decentralization of international economics. So, all these questions that we will discuss here are key for the healthy development of our nations.

On sustainability – the global supply chains we want to build must be ones where ports go paperless, where ships use sustainable fuels based on common IMO standards, and we have here the head of IMO with us, where trade is digital, with the help perhaps, I hope, of UN Trade and Development and our program ASYCUDA, something that we are doing in Barbados, and where supply chains are green from the start. Shipping represents 3% of all global green-house gas emissions, a number we ought to bring down through a decisive transition to sustainable maritime fuels, a task in which we are working hand in hand with the IMO.  

But even as we work on the pollution that happens through logistics, we must also talk about what is polluted at the source. It's time for a frank conversation about what goods get made in the first place, and more than that, how?

We must reward companies that invest in clean production processes and hold accountable those who do not, while ensuring the framework of just transitions enshrined in the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities. We can only truly transform how goods move, by changing what goods we make and value, and how we make them. And here, we also have the head of UNIDO with us, that is an organization completely committed to this endeavor.

Lastly, on resilience – the global supply chains we want to build must be strong, flexible and adaptable enough that when a drought strikes a great canal, when a new conflict re-routes shipping routes, or when a new pandemic forces us to re-think production and consumption, our goods don't become collateral damage, our people don’t suffer needlessly, and countries don’t lose their development gains. This means diversifying suppliers and production hubs, promoting regional trade, and developing infrastructures that open markets within countries themselves. 

But all that needs financing, need resources, need investment. And one of the things precisely that we have been saying, and going to the Summit of the Future in September, called by the Secretary-General, is that we need a new dynamic in investment and trade that have been weak after the pandemic in the developing countries. We need the resources that will allow deferred transition. We need the investment coming from the private sector at scale, so we can diversify and be part of the gains of the new economy and the digital economy.

This forum provides concrete tools and technical assistance in applying inclusiveness, sustainability and resilience in supply chains, promoting sustainable and resilient measures in maritime and regional corridors, and fostering rural-urban transport connections, climate-smart transport and trade facilitation solutions.  

Distinguished delegates,  

It is no coincidence that this inaugural forum is convened here in Barbados, in the heart of the Caribbean. This region, as we know, is a microcosm of the challenges and opportunities facing global supply chains today. The week after this event, SIDS4 will take place in Antigua and Barbuda, further solidifying the Caribbean's leadership role in shaping a more inclusive and sustainable future. 

We hope this Global Supply Chain Forum, daughter of the Bridgetown Covenant we signed here in Barbados with Prime Minister Motley in our last ministerial conference, will become the first of many. It certainly could not come at a more pertinent time.  

But we must also recognize that the solutions we seek will not be found solely within this grand hall. They lie in the ingenuity of the small business owner seeking to reduce waste. In the innovation of the engineer designing a greener cargo ship. In the knowledge of the farmer adapting crops to a changing climate.

Let this Forum amplify those voices. Let us create a platform for sharing best practices, for matching those seeking solutions with those who can provide them. With over 982 guests from 127 countries, with representatives of 12 international agencies, and 12 ministers, and CEOs from industries all around the globe. We have had such a great opportunity to do so. 

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you once more for being here today. 

Your Excellencies, I am under no illusion about the challenges ahead. Transforming global supply chains is an undertaking of immense complexity. But the cost of doing nothing is far greater. We owe it to our people, to our planet, and to future generations to act with urgency, with purpose, and with unwavering conviction. 

Let us rise to this challenge together. I thank you all for being here.