TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Jun13/07)
21 June 2013
Third World Network  

SDGs: Africa stresses economic structural transformation and diversification

New York, 21 June (Ranja Sengupta) – African countries called for a stand-alone goal on industrialization, employment and decent jobs, emphasizing the need for economic diversification and structural transformation in the region.

At the fourth session of the UN General Assembly Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in New York, the African Group, represented by Djibouti, stressed in its statement on 17 June said that, “Job growth requires a structural transformation of African economies through industriaisation that induces value addition an economic diversification. Industrialisation is a powerful tool to generate inclusive and sustained economic growth, create productive employment and decent work and lift millions of people out of poverty.”

The OWG’s fourth session was held in the UN headquarters in New York on 17-19 June where Member States deliberated on two thematic areas; employment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education and culture in the first cluster of issues and health and population dynamics in the second.

There was a clear articulation of the need for full and broad based employment as well as decent work all around the world. The need for social protection emerged as a major area of concern while the voice of the youth resonated round the room with a powerful intervention by a youth representative. The crucial importance of education, especially quality education and respecting the diversity of culture as essential ingredients of sustainable development, also came across very strongly.

Djibouti, representing the African Group highlighted the inter-linkages between employment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education and culture. It stressed that, “Productive employment and decent work are essential elements in achieving the eradication of poverty, the reduction of inequalities and the respect of human dignity.”  It added that employment objectives need to become central to global actions and mechanisms.

“A development agenda which gives priority to productive employment creation, especially for youth, is of utmost importance for the African Group. A global strategy on youth and employment needs to be conceptualized within the broader objective of full employment, decent work, and dignified livelihoods. The capacity behind employment generation is fundamentally linked reviving and enhancing productive policies, through adequate finance, investment, technology and trade policies,” according to the statement.

The Group then pointed out that job growth requires a structural transformation of African economies through industrialization that induces value addition and economic diversification, stressing that industrialization is a powerful tool to lift millions from poverty

Djibouti cited the African Union Commission and the Economic Commission for Africa that more than 70% of Africans earn their living from vulnerable employment as economies continue to depend heavily on production and export of primary commodities, and wider diversification is therefore needed. It also cited “The MDG Report 2013: Assessing progress in Africa toward the Millennium Development Goals” on how it is critical to reduce inequalities in Africa and one of the causes of those inequalities is the current structure of African economies. It referred to the report recommendation that to transform African economies, the promotion of industrialization and structural transformation is needed, through inter alia economic diversification and value chains linking raw material producers to end-users.

According to the Group statement, “Industrialization will help developing countries, especially African countries, to address the issues of unemployment as well as employment quality, including underemployment, informality, vulnerability, and working poverty. It will also strengthen, through wealth creation and taxation, the mobilization of domestic resources which, in turn, can help to achieve other development goals and targets, including education and social protection.”

The African Group then called for a stand-alone goal on industrialization, employment and decent jobs.

Since this transformation via industrialization will require more workers, “education and training policies should be aimed to support economic transformation and to prepare citizens to productive employment based on requirements of new labour markets”, with a special focus on women and youth. Education which should remain a stand alone goal, should go beyond primary or even secondary education.

The Africa Group also stressed the need for social protection as a tool to deliver on several goals such as poverty eradication, food security, nutrition, health and education. It pitched social protection “as a cross cutting issue and could be incorporated as a target across several goals.” At the same time, the Group felt that “productive employment and decent work, in the context of industrialization and economies diversification, remain one of the best ways to achieve social protection by providing income, cutting working poverty and vulnerable employment and by reducing the scope of regimes such as cash transfers or school feeding programmes. By putting more people in decent and productive work, countries will be in better position to define their national floors of social protection and to extend social security vertically (providing more comprehensive services and benefits) and horizontally (extending coverage to a greater number) to cover all groups.”

The African Group also highlighted the importance of culture in contributing to all three aspects of sustainable development and underscored the need for cultural diversity.

(The need for structural transformation was highlighted in the statement of the Group of 77 and China, represented by Fiji, earlier in the day. Developing countries that spoke afterwards reinforced and complemented the Group statement. The Group’s statement emphasized a “people centered development agenda” and a transformative agenda that could only be realized if based on collective efforts and enhanced global partnerships. For achieving this transformation, “industrialisation is a powerful tool to generate inclusive and sustained economic growth, create productive employment and decent work and lift millions of people out of poverty”. See TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development dated 18 June.)

Benin, speaking on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), stressed that high economic growth of the past decade in LDCs had not translated into corresponding level of employment generation. “What is needed now is to foster the creation of new employment and decent work for all which should also be a goal of the next development agenda.”

The LDC statement highlighted the need to put in place policies that facilitate the transition from the informal to the formal economy and to support micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises. “We need to trigger the main engine of job creation. Promoting structural transformation will have to be a key part of policy packages to promote employment and decent work for all”.

“LDCs need enhanced international support to build their productive capacities to reach the goal of full employment and decent work for all,” the statement added.

On social protection, the statement emphasized the Istanbul Programme of Action saying that it “aptly recognizes that social protection has both short and long term benefits to sustainable economic growth, poverty eradication and social stability.”

Highlighting that we need to ensure that everyone in LDCs are covered by social protection schemes by ensuring essential social services and economic needs. The LDCs said that this should also be a goal of the next development agenda. Benin further said that “it is a matter of grave concern that due to a variety of constraints, the LDCs are not been able to provide secured social protection schemes”. “Development partners must provide adequate financial and technical support TO LDCs to develop and implement social protection policies and programmes, especially for poor and disadvantaged groups.

Underlining the fact that the number of youth is increasing very fast in LDCs, and that they are an asset provided they are given the necessary opportunities, the statement said it is necessary to give access to secondary and higher education, vocational training and productive employment, health care services and access to financial sector with entrepreneurial skills.  The LDCs reminded about the various commitments made by development partners in the Istanbul Plan of Action and at the Rio+20 Conference about this issue.

On education and culture, Benin pointed out that 1/4 of young men and 1/3 of young women are still illiterate in the LDCs, and poor outcomes in primary education have limited the scope for secondary and vocational education. Quality of education and access for marginalized groups are also matters of serious concern, the statement pointed out.

“The next development agenda should set a goal of universal access and quality completion of primary, secondary and tertiary education. This is necessary for developing knowledge and skills, including technical and vocational, that are relevant to the worlds of work and life as well as to strengthen the role of culture and creativity in society,” according to the LDC statement.

Ghana, representing the West African States, highlighted the need for decent jobs for the youth. “The challenges include a weak private sector, graduates whose skills do not match the demands of the labour market, overemphasis on universal basic education to the neglect of higher education, some foreign companies failing to respect local content requirements, and lack of access to international markets for processed products from African countries“, it said.

For addressing these challenges, Ghana underscored the need for quality tertiary (along with primary) education and practical, technical, science based and professional courses as well as knowledge sharing. It also highlighted the need for FDI (foreign direct investment) that focuses on processing of primary products for export and respect local content requirements.

“Some African countries have put more emphasis on processing raw materials in the agriculture and extractive sectors to create jobs and wean themselves off foreign aid. The international community needs to support processed products from Sub-Saharan Africa to enter developed and some emerging economies,” it stressed.

The group outlined a detailed set of targets with associated indicators. Some of the targets include enhancing youth employment, improving labour productivity, and promoting entrepreneurship and enterprise development that create decent and sustainable jobs.

The West African States also highlighted the need for social protection, advocating targets of “social protection for all” and to “increase income-generating opportunities and job security for women in the informal economy”. “Youth development” was another aspect that was highlighted, with a suggestion for a specific goal on “youth development facilities and activities”.

The permanent representative of Trinidad and Tobago spoke on behalf of 14 Member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). It said, “CARICOM acknowledges the important linkages between employment and decent work, youth, social protection, education and culture. In our view joint consideration of these themes covers a broad spectrum of the sustainable development agenda at the national and regional levels.”

The statement pointed out that while governments in the region are involved in addressing these issues, “several challenges remain and further work is required with strengthening the capacity of the creative industries to contribute to economic growth.”

CARICOM highlighted in particular the issue of youth unemployment and several other challenges facing the youth who comprise approximately 60 per cent of the region’s population. Therefore CARICOM governments are of the view that, “Young people should be at the centre of development policy, planning and implementation; Youth development and empowerment should be prioritized and well resourced, and countries’ performance in youth development should be monitored and reported on; and National youth employment policies should be linked to national macroeconomic development plans and young people should be involved in national and local-level labour policies and programmes.”

Further, the Group argued that “Youth development must be adequately represented in the post 2015 global development agenda” and can be considered a cross cutting issue.

The Group also highlighted that “social protection is one of the foundations for inclusive equitable and sustainable development and that it can play a transformative role in addressing, not only symptoms, but causes of poverty and social exclusion”.

CARICOM also reiterated its “full support for the employment and decent work agenda and remains open to the consideration of a stand-alone goal on employment and decent work”.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) representing the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) made a strong case for a “transformative stand-alone goal on education” as the learning from experience of MDG 2 shows that while the task remains unfinished it must continue to be a priority. The post 2015/SDG on education has to focus on quality and access and has to take into account access for vulnerable groups,” according to the statement. Such an SDG will lead to employment and decent job conditions, enhance health and living standards.

The SIDS advocated repeatedly for a stand-alone SDG on education that provides “equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all” adding that this must include “accessibility as a key component of such a goal”.

PNG went on to raise the point about the threat to biological resources and ecosystems and the seas. Several factors including land and coast degradation, loss of biological diversity, changing land and water usage patterns are driving this increasing threat. Lack of knowledge about indigenous methods about preservation and long term environmental planning and management are further aggravating the situation.

In this context, the SIDS proposed a set of climate related education factors under the education goal. Learning about climate change, disaster management must be included and informal learning especially by younger generations is a must. The learning must also be based on local contexts and experiences and must prioritize traditional and indigenous knowledge. Several other issues including NCDs (non-communicable diseases) and sexual and reproductive issues will also need to be included in the curriculum.

The Group also recognized the link between employment, decent work, youth, education and other development issues. In the context of the global crisis, to provide tax reliefs and to put in place a fair and equitable trading system is necessary for generating employment and decent work, PNG asserted. The Group reemphasized the importance of the ocean and the seas for their growth and survival and asserted that these be protected.

The SIDs also highlighted the importance of social protection, the provision of social services and the crucial role of traditional forms of services in this regard especially for people who are especially vulnerable, such as those with disabilities. The importance of educating and giving decent work to the youth was also stressed.

Several other groups and countries, including Tanzania, Peru (with Mexico), India, Belarus, Guatemala (with Colombia), Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Haiti, Tunisia, China, South Africa, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, made statements during the 3-day session of the OWG. Among the developed countries, the EU, Italy (with Spain and Turkey), Denmark (with Ireland and Norway), USA (with Canada and Israel) were among those that presented statements.