Photo source: UNCTAD - Photo: 2024

Global South Leaders Call for Equitable Economy and Renewed Multilateralism

By Jaya Ramachandran

GENEVA | 20 June 2024 (IDN) — Over 1,100 participants from 152 countries convened in Geneva for the three-day Global Leaders Forum to mark 60 years of UNCTAD, under the theme “Charting a new development course in a changing world”. Discussions focussed on shaping a vision for inclusive prosperity amidst global crises, trade disruptions, mounting debt burdens and the severe impact of climate change on developing countries.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres opened the Forum on 12 June, with the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Rebeca Grynspan, and heads of state and government, 28 ministers of trade and foreign affairs, civil society and private sector representatives, leading economists and heads of international organizations from across the world.

Mr. Guterres highlighted UNCTAD’s essential role in promoting inclusive and sustainable development through trade and investment and commended the reforms initiated by Secretary-General Grynspan.

Global South shows strong presence

The Global Leaders Forum strong presence of the Global South reflecting its diversity.

President Xi Jinping of China, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Azali Assoumani of Comoros, Miguel Diaz-Canel of Cuba, Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic, Andry Nirina Rajoelina of Madagascar, and Prime Ministers Mia Mottley of Barbados and Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão of Timor-Leste recognized UNCTAD’s key role in advocating for developing countries’ access to the benefits of a global economy. They also praised UNCTAD’s efforts in advancing South-South cooperation and North-South dialogue.

President Xi Jinping acknowledged UN Trade and Development’s role in promoting South-South cooperation and advocating for North-South dialogue. He reiterated the country’s commitment to the Global South and the developing world, aiming to facilitate global modernization and achieve common prosperity.

To support UN Trade and Development’s implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Chinese president announced a $20 million contribution from China over the next five years.

President Azali Assoumani of Comoros commended UN Trade and Development for its contributions to helping countries of the South integrate into the global economy. He emphasized Comoros’s commitment to the organization’s goals and highlighted the country’s desire to deepen its partnership with UN Trade and Development.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel of Cuba highlighted the regression on most SDGs, noting the COVID-19 pandemic’s exposure of the disparity between those in extreme poverty and the richest 1%.

He pointed out that while 40% of people live in heavily indebted countries, the wealthiest nations struggle to commit 0.7% of their wealth to supporting developing countries. Mr. Díaz-Canel emphasized that UN Trade and Development provides the ideal platform to spotlight these inequalities.

President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic recognized UN Trade and Development’s contributions to finding solutions, fostering global and regional cooperation and developing international standards for fairer trade.

Mr. Abinader reinforced the Dominican Republic’s commitment to supporting the organization’s work on making trade and investment more inclusive and reforming the international financial architecture.

President Andry Nirina Rajoelina of Madagascar praised UN Trade and Development’s valuable commitment and technical assistance.

Mr. Rajoelina said the country’s “one district, one factory” plan aims to provide fair economic opportunities and support food production with innovative industrial processing. Strengthening exports, including vanilla, are key goals. He thanked UN Trade and Development for its support.

Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão of Timor-Leste highlighted UN Trade and Development’s long-standing campaign for a fairer economic system, noting its role in identifying global economic flaws before the 2007 crisis.

He emphasized the need for independent thought in addressing new challenges and saw the 60th anniversary as an opportunity to do so. Gusmão pointed out that Timor-Leste is one of the few countries classified as both a least developed country and a small island developing state, praising UN Trade and Development’s support and urging for more resources to aid fragile nations.

UNCTAD and new era of multilateralism

Top trade and foreign affairs officials and experts from across sectors and regions addressed key challenges and opportunities facing the world economy amid multiple crises and increasing global inequality. They called for a renewed multilateralism characterized by equality and reaffirmed UN Trade and Development’s crucial role, solidifying its mandate.

UN Trade and Development Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan underscored the collective resolve to confront these challenges and transform “hierarchical conference tables into circles of equals”.

“This is the new face of multilateralism,” she said. “A multilateralism driven by our own sense of resolution.” Ms. Grynspan believed UN Trade and Development’s founders would be proud of the bold discourse and unwavering resolve demonstrated at the forum.

Key points from discussions

Making industrial policy work for trade and development: Experts highlighted the need for regulatory reform, infrastructure development and human capital investment to build resilient economies of the future.

Shaping a digital future for people and planet: Discussions focused on ensuring the digital revolution benefits all, advocating for stronger support to developing countries to build the necessary infrastructure and access the required digital tools and skills.

Preparing for the economies of tomorrow: Participants highlighted the need for stronger multilateral support for developing countries amid economic turbulence and climate change, with emphasis on building productive capacities and promoting economic diversification.

Reshaping foreign direct investment and global value chains for development: The panel explored the developmental implications of transforming global value chains. They highlighted the benefits of regional and continental economic free trade zones and UN Trade and Development’s role in supporting developing countries’ efforts to create these zones.

Catching up with development strategies in a world of cascading crises: Experts examined the impact on developing countries of cascading crises, including higher interest rates, inflation, geopolitical conflicts and climate change. They called for stronger technical assistance to help these nations access and harness the latest technologies.

Leaders commended the growing effectiveness of UNCTAD in helping developing countries participate in the global economy. They praised its expert policy analysis on the challenges of global trade for developing economies, including new green industrial policies, foreign direct investment, the international financial architecture, the challenges of the digital economy and the disruption of global value chains.

UN Trade and Development Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan highlighted that many of the world’s poorest populations remain vulnerable to economic instability, environmental degradation and growing debt burdens. She voiced the organization’s commitment to supporting developing economies through an open and fair multilateral trading system. Ms. Grynspan emphasized the need to renew trust by amplifying the voices of developing countries.

Trade disruptions, industrial policies, digital economy and debt

Analysts examined disrupted global supply chains amidst escalating geopolitical tensions and the persistent asymmetry of the global economy in the digital age. They also explored cascading crises, sustainable industrial policies and the need to revitalize falling foreign direct investment.

The consensus was that industrial policies and structural changes should occur in a socially inclusive and sustainable manner to ensure social stability and protect populations of developing countries.

Thought leaders in the digital economy stressed the importance of including voices from the Global South in artificial intelligence (AI) governance discussions. This inclusion is crucial to support the development of contextual and adaptable AI. They highlighted the need for international cooperation and inclusive policy development, advocating for an international regulatory framework for AI developments.

Leading economists took the stage on the final day for a “Special voices” session. Ranging from promoting trade as a critical engine for development to reforming the international financial architecture, they highlighted the need for strong institutions and the limitations of one-size-fits-all development approaches.

Special attention was given to the current debt crisis as an example of the financial architecture’s inadequacy in adapting to a changing global landscape, especially for developing countries. Experts underscored that at this critical juncture, solutions are needed to reform the international economic system, including steps to address the debt crisis while creating a more resilient and inclusive economic future, as reflected in UNCTAD’s recently published “World of debt”.

UNCTAD’s 60th anniversary celebration underscored the organization’s pivotal role in fostering an inclusive and equitable global economy. Leaders emphasized the importance of renewed multilateralism and the need for comprehensive reforms to address global challenges and support developing countries. This commemoration sets the stage for the United Nation’s upcoming Summit of the Future, where UNCTAD will play a significant role in advocating for the Global South, further reinforcing its commitment to sustainable and inclusive development. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo source: UNCTAD

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