UNCTAD's 60th anniversary Global Leaders Forum opening ceremony: Leaders' voices in a changing world

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

UNCTAD's 60th anniversary Global Leaders Forum opening ceremony: Leaders' voices in a changing world

12 June 2024



Your excellencies, the Heads of State and Government of Comoros, Madagascar and Timor-Leste. It means so much to us that you are here. Thank you for making the time and effort to come.

Your excellency, The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres. Your tireless advocacy for multilateralism has been a guiding light for us and the wider UN system. We are honoured by your presence

Your excellency, Federal Councillor of the Swiss Confederation. Thank you for hosting us, today and always.

Distinguished guests,

Dear colleagues,

Dear friends,

Mesdames et Messieurs, bienvenue.

60 years ago, here in Geneva, a powerful idea was born.

That from the ashes of war, and from the complex history of trade, a new chapter could be written. A chapter where the inequities of the past will not dictate the terms of the future.

This ambitious idea, alongside the creation of the Group of 77, is what became the UN Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD.

This idea was both a rejection and a promise.

A rejection of business as usual, of the idea that the global economy in 1964 was already a level playing field, that the rules of the game were fair and just.

They were not then, and they are not now.

But 1964 was also a promise.

A promise of recognition that the newly independent nations, forged in the postwar struggle, had a right to a seat at the table, to negotiate common principles, common agreements, common solutions.

That their voices mattered. 
That their development aspirations were legitimate and required special consideration.
That the fruits of globalization could be shared. 
That prosperity could be for all.

Your excellencies,

The history of the last 60 years is the history of that promise being tested, challenged and, sometimes, realized.

The global economy today is very different from what it was in 1964.
It is far larger, more interconnected, more complex. 
Over a billion people have been lifted out of poverty.
And the developing world is now the engine of global trade and economic activity.

Seen from the viewpoint of history, this may give the illusion that the ground is less uneven today than it was six decades ago.

But seen from the perspective of those who still struggle – the poor, the unconnected, the discriminated, the rural, but also the women, and the youth – the ground remains uneven, the climb too steep.

The winds of trade have filled the sails of some, propelling them to new heights of wealth and influence.

But for others, those same winds have been a tempest, leaving them exposed and vulnerable to the boom and the bust of capital, environmental degradation and commodity dependence.

Technology has transformed our world, unlocking possibilities once unimaginable.

The digital economy is a powerful new engine of development, which is transforming trade itself, making it intangible and easy to scale, while at the same time risking to deepen divides and inequalities.

The resurgence of industrial policy signals a welcome recognition that the state has a vital role to play in fostering development and transformation.

But for many developing nations, burdened by debt and limited fiscal space, this resurgence is a distant horizon.

Your excellencies,

The world is in need of a new 1964 moment.

Our internationally agreed, rules-based economic order is being contested.

A new multipolar world has emerged. But multipolarity without multilateralism is a path to fragmentation, a descent into trade wars and dwindling global cooperation.

It is a world where the voice of the developing countries that are at the heart of our membership, our mandate, and our mission, risk being lost in the cacophony of competing interests.

Multipolarity with multilateralism is a different path. One where decentralization of global economic and political power becomes a vehicle for inclusion. Where globalization shows a new face – the face of new players, new ideas, new generations, new hopes shaping the world.

This meeting is therefore also a message. A message that it is a mistake to think that multipolarity is a choice.

Multipolarity is not a choice. What is a choice is multilateralism.

It is multilateralism that is the fragile exception, the crowning achievement of development, of mankind’s quest for peace.

We must make this choice right. We defend multilateralism every day. But a renewed form of multilateralism – with greater representation in governance, with fairer rules in trade and the environment, with much less inequity in international finance.

As the Secretary General of the UN said last year in New York, and I quote: ‘We must reform, or rupture’.

This meeting today in Geneva is thus a proud prelude to the Summit of the Future, a unique opportunity to rebuild trust and hope. A task that will require the same spirit that sixty years ago gave birth to this institution.

Your excellencies,

The promise of 1964 is alive in this room.

It lives in the hearts and minds of those who have dedicated their lives to the cause of trade and development, from Raúl Prebisch, our visionary architect, to all former Secretaries-General, whose wisdom have illuminated our path.

It lives in the tireless efforts of our staff, past and present, whose expertise, commitment and passion have been the lifeblood of this organization.

And it lives in our member states, and in the tables around which they have met, year after year, for six decades now.

Let us be inspired by that spirit and that promise.

Let’s go forward together.

I thank you.