Trade and Development Board, seventieth session, Opening plenary

Statement by Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UNCTAD

Trade and Development Board, seventieth session, Opening plenary

19 June 2023

Your excellency, Ambassador Bahtijors Hassans, President of the outgoing 69th Trade and Development Board, thank you very much for your outstanding service.

Your excellency, Ambassador Khalil HASHMI, president of the 70th Trade and Developing Board, it is an honour to receive you as president of this Board. I look forward to working very closely with you.

Your excellencies,

Distinguished delegates

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

It is an honour to be here with you again, in this Trade and Development Board. We have planned a very packed few days of discussion, which will be crucial for our work going forward. In particular, there is a high-level segment later today on decarbonization in the Blue Economy, which I really expect the membership will find interesting and useful.  

As is now my custom, I want to take this opportunity in the opening segment to share with you some thoughts on the work of UNCTAD. I will divide my presentation in three parts – first, I will make a very short overview on our perspective on the current global context; second, I will brief the membership on some of the key metrics and deliverables of our work at UNCTAD since we last met; and third, finally, I will close with a short segment on our work going forward, with reference to some key dates in our calendar for this year and next.

Since there is no time to waste, let me go straight into the first part.

Here, I will be very brief. The world today is facing multiple challenges – we have talked about cascading crises that have caused debt distress, growing poverty and hunger, and geo-economic fragmentation.

In terms of the SDGs, the terrible fact is that today in 2023, by nearly every measure, we are moving backwards. Backwards on ending poverty, which is back to 2017 in terms of progress. Backwards on hunger, with levels increasing for the first time in decades. Backwards on women’s rights, with gender equality nearly 300 years away. And backwards on development, with only 12% of the Sustainable Development Goals on track, midway to the 2030 deadline.

According to the IMF, 36 countries are in debt distress or at very high risk of it, while 16 more countries are facing extremely expensive bond markets, up to 8 times higher than developed countries. This adds to 52 countries in debt trouble, about 40% of the total of developing countries, who are at the same time not able to access debt relief and concessional financing. Due to higher interest rates, developing countries are dedicating more than a fifth of their revenues to debt-servicing. Africa now spends more on debt service costs than on health. But this is a global phenomenon – according to research we are publishing, worked alongside the UN Regional Economic Commissions, 3.3 billion people live in countries that are spending more on debt servicing than on health or education. This is almost half of all humanity.

What is at stake, what is on the other side of this cascade of crises is the 2030 Agenda, which is much more than a set of targets, it is a promise we made to ourselves and to future generations. It is our last collective roadmap in a world that is in desperate need of solidarity and multilateralism.

UNCTAD, together with the UN and the multilateral system has a very important role to play in this juncture. In bringing the perspective from the global south. In safeguarding supply chains, like we have done with the Black Sea Initiative and the MoU between the UN and the Russian Federation, so that trade disruptions do not wreak havoc in the most vulnerable. In being able to push the envelope in the places where the decisions are made. In delivering on the Bridgetown Covenant so that developing countries have the tools to transform their economies and meet their SDGs.

Your excellencies, dear delegates, – with this background, let me now proceed to the second part of my presentation, on our work at UNCTAD since the last time we met.

Here, there are several things I could brief you on, but time is limited. Also, most of the information is available in our Annual Report 2022, which is now online on the UNCTAD website.

So, to start I will brief you on some important quantitative and qualitative developments at UNCTAD, and then I will focus on a few issues that you member states raised in our previous TDB – namely, interdivisional delivery, publications policy, regional engagement, and the implementation of the Bridgetown Covenant.

On the first part – the big picture – let me just say the following.

I am proud to say that UNCTAD is still on track for accelerated growth and improvement. And thit is evident from two key things, one quantitative and the other qualitative. On the quantitative side, we have the impressive growth of readership numbers for our flagship reports.

As you can see in our Annual Report, the visibility of UNCTAD jumped by an impressive 24% last year, as we appeared in over 120.000 news articles around the world. For the first time in our history, our publications were downloaded more than one million times last year, and our website received more than 7.7 million visitors. Our social media presence also jumped by almost a fifth, as we now reached more than half a million followers. In total, we released over 200 reports and online tools last year, including: 6 flagship reports, 3 global trade updates, 4 global investment monitors, 15 policy briefs, and much more.

I am happy to say that we have kept the positive momentum going into 2023. In the first six months of this year, we have already filmed the same amount videos we did in all of 2022. Our viewership numbers have increased by 31% in these six months, meaning our progress is actually accelerating. Lastly, let me add here that our publications are now being launched for the first time in three important global languages – Urdu, Swahili, and Hindi. So, these populations now can access also in their language our publications. Apart, obviously of the UN official languages.

Now, on the qualitative side, there are many things I could give as examples, but I think the two most obvious ones are the continued operation of the Black Sea Grain initiative and its parallel MoU between the Russian Federation and the UN – as well as the work we continue to do in the context of the UN Global Crisis Response Group.

In July, the Istanbul Agreements will have reached one year of continued operation, a milestone that is very important for us all, a testament of the value of multilateralism, and indeed the value of UNCTAD itself, even in the most challenging circumstances.

As an aside, let me just add that, as geo-economic fragmentation continues, UNCTAD’s role in intervening on disrupted supply chains will only grow. UNCTAD is ready to provide more support of this kind in the future. Be it in renewable energy supply chains, in critical minerals, in LNG. We are a trade and development institution and ensuring that trade works for all is an important part of what we do.

Now, in relation to the UN Global Crisis Response Group, let me just say that this platform has been extremely useful in galvanizing support for some key issues affecting the world today. Through the GCRG, for example, the UN now has a very cohesive UNCTAD-UNDP-DESA approach for international financial reform (both within the UN, as well as in outside fora, such as the G20). Through the GCRG as well, we have updated important research alongside the UN regional economic commissions, with two upcoming reports coming out – one on multidimensional fuel, food, financial global vulnerabilities, and another on debt. Lastly, through the GCRG we have continued to work very closely with the Secretary General’s office in New York – providing him with crucial inputs and even accompanying him important events, such as the G7 summit in Hiroshima and the upcoming Paris Summit.

Now, the key question here is why is this happening, why is the readership growing, why are the countries engaging more with us, why are we able to deliver ever-more complex projects. And the answer to that, dear delegates, is that behind all these headlines, there is hard work going on, in every single unit, branch and division of this institution, to deliver on the reforms that you have asked of us, and that I have made my duty to implement.

With this, let me turn now to some of the key issues you raised in our last TDB, starting with our publications policy.

In the last Board Meeting, you highlighted the importance of ensuring UNCTAD's publications are clear and consistent. I am pleased to inform you that we have now revamped the UNCTAD Publications Committee. We have implemented a more rigorous peer-review process. Divisions are now required to liaise with the Office of the Secretary-General (OSG) before formally agreeing to contribute to joint publications, and we have introduced a double-blind peer review for research papers. This process is aimed at ensuring the accuracy and validity of the data and analysis contained in the paper, while also offering insightful and constructive feedback for any necessary improvements. Let me add here that, at a personal level, I find this process very engaging as it offers me the opportunity to collaborate with different teams and collectively work towards a more cohesive message.

Delegates, let me now turn to the issue of interdivisional delivery.

As you know, last year we started working on this, especially in the framework of the Global Crisis Response Group, for which we created an interdivisional unit which is still in operation. This year, we created a new interface especially for our engagement with the G20, in close collaboration with UNDP and DESA, which is not only good news for us at UNCTAD, but good news for the UN as a whole. As mentioned already, never before did the UN work so cohesively in key areas related to international financial reform as we are doing now, and this is showing in the G20, in the discussions leading to the Paris Summit, in the SDG Summit, in the Summit for the Future.

These events offer an important opportunity to push for reforms in a substantive, impactful and development-oriented approach. As part of these efforts, UNCTAD has been commissioned to produce alongside other institutions reports on climate change from a development perspective, debt distress, trade and investment, and data for development. Last week, I was part of the G20 development ministerial is Varanasi, chaired by India’s Foreign Minister, who was very pleased with UNCTAD’s presence and message there.

Regarding our support for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), we have devised a strategy involving experts from all Divisions. The draft will be presented to the SIDS Group for review before finalization in the coming weeks.

Regarding the Working Group on Environment and Climate Change, let me say that in the lead up to COP27, we carried out a policy coherence exercise on climate change to ensure that our proposal and positions at the Conference were coherent. And we have now just initiated discussions for our engagement at COP28 to ensure a coordinated presence and that our voice is heard.

In terms of the Gender Committee, let me add that we decided to undertake a capacity assessment on substantive work on gender and organize an expert consultation to develop a strategic plan for UNCTAD’s work on gender and trade.

In terms of the Working Group on the WTO the Working Group will prepare a strategy of engagement and identify priorities for deliverables. Also here, at the core of our work is the issue of ensuring policy coherence.

And lastly, in terms of the Statistics branch, which became a stand-alone Service under the Office of the Secretary-General last year, let me just add that this service has been a success. The new architecture has led to treating data as an integrated and transversal resource. And it is bearing fruit, such as on the work of putting a dollar sign to the SDGs funding gaps, to which all Divisions are contributing.

I am happy to report also that our Statistic team has been instrumental in contributing to wider United Nations Initiatives, such as the Beyond GDP brief published in the framework of the Summit for the Future. and continues to be called upon for its data analysis.

Excellencies, let me turn now to the issue of regional engagement.

I have been engaging with several regional groups to keep the lines of communication open and ensure consistent involvement in UNCTAD’s initiatives. I've had several interactions with the Group of 77, one of which was during the handover of leadership from Barbados to Tanzania last December. This gave us the chance to discuss the group’s thoughts and main goals under the guidance of Ambassador Maimuna Tarishi.

Notably, the Group of 77 recently chose to have its global chairpersons’ meeting in Geneva, a move not seen in years. During this meeting, I met with the G77 chapter leaders to discuss current development matters and the group's focus areas for the upcoming SDG Summit and Summit of the Future, as well as the Third South Summit of the G77, which I will be attending in September of this year.

In addition, I have attended multiple meetings with the European Union, which have been great opportunities for open and honest discussions with one of our key partners in development. I would like to extend my gratitude to the EU and its member states for their positive and supportive approach.

We are also collaborating with the SIDS Group in Geneva, led by the Maldives, to explore ways to better support SIDS through UNCTAD’s existing roles. We have made headway and hope to finalize our plan soon and begin carrying it out.

Recently, I also had the chance to share information with the African Group in New York about financing for development and debt challenges. It was an insightful conversation where African nations voiced their worries about the financial strain and debt troubles, they face due to ongoing crises. Engaging with groups in New York will be vital in the coming year, especially as we gear up for the 4th SIDS and LLDCs Conferences, and as the LDC Group, now led by Nepal, focuses on carrying out the Doha Programme of Action. In both here and New York, it will be key to keep the dialogue on all these meetings.

In addition to this, I accompanied SG Guterres to the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, where we brought a South-focus to the discussions, and as already mentioned we are increasing our engagement at the G20 to ensure that these important fora have the diversity of views that are needed in the current juncture.

And we have had contacts with Latin America, ASEAN, Asia, Oceania, and the JUSCANZ countries, where we have had close engagements which we seek to continue expanding.

Also, as I said before, we have worked very closely with all regional commissions, and we have engaged with them in all the regional groupings.

Excellencies, let me now turn to the progress made so far toward the Implementation of the Bridgetown Covenant through Results-Based Management

A year ago, we started to address the mandate you gave us to apply RBM as a flexible management tool.

In April and May this year, we presented to each regional group the progress we made in developing UNCTAD’s Theory of change and its related overarching results framework. We also introduced a list of indicators to measure progress in implementing the Bridgetown Covenant as well as other UNCTAD mandates.

Based on your positive feedback on our presentations, we now have an agreed proposed approach to measure the progress made so far in implementing the Bridgetown Covenant. We will continue to refine indicators with the aim of reporting the results of the four transformations of the Bridgetown Covenant.

Going forward, my objective is to come back and present to you these results at the informal session of the Working party at the end of this year or at the formal session of the Working Party beginning of next year.

Excellencies, let me turn now to the important subject of the Palestinian programme, where I think I have some good news.

As part of the World Bank’s Innovative Private Sector Program in Palestine, UNCTAD has signed a 1.4 million USD agreement with the DAI (Development Alternative Inc.) agency to develop an Automated Business Registration System for the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy.

So far UNCTAD has conducted a visit to Ramallah from where we presented the project methodology to the counterparts and stakeholders and launched the design of an online prototype for company name reservation registration services. More information is available both online and through our colleagues in DIAE.

At the end of this 18-months program, all project registration of all company types will be possible online, through a single form, single online payment, and issuance of electronic certificates.

Finally, dear delegates, let me now turn to budget issues. As I always say, without sufficient resources, we cannot implement our work programme effectively.

As you know, our budget is decided by member States in New York. I would therefore like to update you on the 2024 programme budget and where we stand in the process.

The regular budget proposal for UNCTAD is at the maintenance level, that is:

The total proposed regular budget resources for 2024, before re-costing, amounts roughly to USD 80 million, that is, USD 72 million budgeted for post requirements and USD 8 million for non-post resource requirements.

This amounts to the established 384 posts, and 4 temporary posts for the implementation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. The total includes the nine posts received last year. The 384 established posts include 256 posts in the Professional and higher categories, and 132 posts in general service and related categories.

To raise extrabudgetary resources and enhance our engagement with donors, we are in the process of recruiting a specialist on fundraising. This will help also with ensuring funds for our Technical Cooperation projects, which are growing fast, but the demand for them is growing faster – last year technical cooperation expenditures went beyond the 50-million-dollar mark, and we could have done more if we could have found more resources to respond to countries’ requests.

Your excellencies, dear delegates, allow me now to close this presentation with a few quick points on the future.

This second half of year will be very packed for us at UNCTAD. Tomorrow we will present to you our latest Technology and Innovation Report which illustrates how frontier technologies provide windows of opportunity for developing countries to diversify and make their economies more productive, while following less carbon-intensive development paths. But to achieve this, we need to close the growing technology and resources gaps in the developing world.

After that, we have no less than 6 flagship reports coming up, and important events where UNCTAD is hoping to have a strong presence, starting with the Paris Summit next week, where we will be accompanying UNSG Guterres’ official delegation.

In July we will be publishing the World Investment Report, which comes with some key data developments which I do not want to spoil here. We also have the High-level Political Forum in the ECOSOC in July. And in July, the UN will have also the Stocktaking moment on Food Systems. In August we will go to Nairobi to launch the Economic Development in Africa Report – just last week we met with president Ruto of Kenya, where we discussed the launch of this report at length. Then in September we have the SDG Summit, the G20 Summit, and last but not least – the Review of Maritime Trade report. We also have the G77 Summit in Havana, in 15 and 16 September, that we already said I am committed to attend. And together with the SDG Summit (18 and 19 September), we have the High-Level Dialogue Financing for Development on 20th of September, the Climate Ambition Summit, and the principal’s meeting of the task Force on Financing for Development, taking place also on the 20th, before the Ministerial for Summit of the Future on the 21st.

Let me add here that, as part of our oneUN coordination efforts, three Secretary General briefs were published with substantive UNCTAD collaboration – the Beyond GDP, and the International Financial Architecture policy briefs, published in the framework of the Summit for the Future, as well as the digital compact. Likewise, and thanks to extensive work with the regional commissions, we are publishing this week an important report on the global debt crisis, timed to coincide with the Paris Summit.

This year we will also have the World Investment Forum in Abu Dhabi 16 to 20 October, and the COP28, also in Abu Dhabi from 30 November to 12 December. And finally, the E-week in Geneva, from the 4 to 8 December.

But the most important date of all comes next year, when UNCTAD turns 60. We have a very tight calendar of special events next year, to coincide with our anniversary. We have important celebrations alongside the G77 (which is also turning 60), and major public events in Geneva, including one in the context of our Prebisch Lecture. In November I will be updating you on this important year for all of us.

Chair, your excellencies, dear delegates,

I will stop here. I have spoken enough, but I have not been even remotely exhaustive with all the things we are doing and are planning to do. But I hope I have been able to convey to you a general picture of the sheer amount of effort we are putting into this institution. I almost cannot believe that I have only been here for less than two years. UNCTAD is now my home, I feel like I was born here. I stand by my staff, and I am so eager to continue delivering on the important mandates you have given us all.

Thank you, excellencies. I look forward to your comments and questions.