Investment, Enterprise and Development Commission, fourteenth session - Item 5: Investment facilitation for sustainable development

Statement by Pedro Manuel Moreno, Deputy Secretary-General of UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

Investment, Enterprise and Development Commission, fourteenth session - Item 5: Investment facilitation for sustainable development

29 April 2024

Dear Chair, 
Distinguished delegates, 
Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to this session on Investment Facilitation for Sustainable Development.

We have an impressive line-up of high-level speakers and experts. Thus, I want to keep my remarks short but without underestimating the weight of the topic.

As I said this morning, this is a challenging moment in terms of investment and sustainable development:

  • We are off track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. A mere 15 per cent of the SDG targets are on track, while nearly half are teetering on the edge.
  • The current global investment landscape is fraught with struggles, including slow growth, geopolitical tensions and increasing economic fracturing.
  • Investment flows have declined in 2022 as well as in 2023.
  • And at the midpoint of the 2030 agenda, the SDG investment gap in developing countries widened to four trillion US dollars annually. More than half of that gap relates to the energy transition alone.

This is of much concern as we all know that investment is a sine qua non for development and finding solutions to the challenges we face. This has also been a core topic in the discussions and the outcome of the ECOSOC Financing for Development Forum in which I participated last week in New York.  

To attract more investment, efforts have increasingly focused on investment facilitation. One could say it has become the topic of the day.

Investment facilitation has driven discussions at the multilateral, plurilateral, regional and bilateral levels. It has become an important feature in international investment agreements. Relevant commitments are included in many recent bilateral and regional cooperation agreements.

It has also marked debates at the World Trade Organizations.  Ministers representing 123 WTO members issued in February a Joint Ministerial Declaration marking the finalization of the Investment Facilitation for Development Agreement.

Our World Investment Report last year showed that the number of national policy measures focused on transparency and streamlining of procedures and on single windows – all typical investment facilitation tools – is increasing rapidly.

And at the 2023 World Investment Forum, the Investment Facilitation Track was one of the most extensive and well attended, with events on national policy best practices, provisions in international investment agreements, digital tools for investment facilitation, and practical briefings and training on the development of portals and online single windows.

To support countries, international discussions and regional negotiations, we have provided research, data and policy advice. For example, we have supported last year the Southern African Customs Union in developing a digital investment facilitation monitor.

But a lot of our attention has focused on implementation support for digital government tools, including iGuides, Information Portals, and Online Single Windows, which we have rolled out in more than 60 countries.

Let me pause here a moment to thank our donors who have supported this work.

We see the implementation of digital government tools not just as a direct mechanism to support investment attraction, but also as a way to strengthen institutions and to mitigate weaknesses in governance that hinder investment.

In reality, that second objective is probably more important than the first. If we are realistic, we must recognize that providing online information on regulations and administrative procedures, in and by itself, is not sufficient to convince investors to come to a country. If we want to be serious about addressing the gap in investment needed for sustainable development, we need to tackle the root causes of low investment in the poorest countries: high risk perceptions and high capital costs. These, in turn, depend on many factors, including debt levels and macro-economics. But governance and institutions are among those factors as well.

That is why we see much value in looking at ways to use digital government tools for business and investment facilitation more holistically. It is not only about improving the ease of doing business and the investment climate per se, but a steppingstone for broader digital government implementation in support of stronger governance and institutions.

We already have some examples where the scope of UNCTAD’s portals has expanded to include other policy areas. They illustrate that this is possible.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am looking forward to listening to your insights on how digital government can tackle some of the root causes of the growing SDG investment gap. This makes an important contribution in our quest for sustainable development.

Thank you.