TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Sept17/01)
15 September 2017
Third World Network

UNCTAD SG stresses importance of multilateralism
Published in SUNS #8531 dated 14 September 2017

Geneva, 13 Sep (Kanaga Raja) - Highlighting the fragile global economic situation as well as the shifting dynamics of global solidarity and partnership amidst rising xenophobia, the Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has underlined the importance of multilateralism in confronting and overcoming these challenges.

The UNCTAD chief's remarks came at the opening of the 64th regular session of the Trade and Development Board (TDB) of UNCTAD on 11 September.

In his opening statement (delivered on his behalf by Deputy Secretary-General Ms. Isabelle Durant), UNCTAD head Dr Mukhisa Kituyi noted that the world has been far from quiet lately.

[Although Dr Kituyi was present at the meeting, he was reportedly feeling unwell, hence his statement was read out by his deputy.]

There is much anxiety around the globe, with tensions in North East Asia in particular at levels not seen in decades, he said.

At the same time, he noted, the issue of international trade has taken on a new centrality in the geo-politics of exclusion and extremism.

"A view of international trade has been revived, focused on mercantilist self-interest rather than development- oriented mutual benefit."

Consequently, said the UNCTAD Secretary-General, in the year that has passed since the last TDB session, the global enabling environment has continued to be hindered by uncertainties and weak demand.

"Compounding this fragile global economic situation, the dynamics of international solidarity and global partnership have also begun shifting amidst rising xenophobia."

In many ways, traditional political divisions in many parts of the world are giving way to a rift between those who've benefited from globalization and those who have not.

"We must unite as members of the UN family and rally to the defense of multilateralism to confront and overcome these challenges," said Dr Kituyi.

"The answer to many of the challenges we face is spelled out in the SDGs and is the very DNA of UNCTAD as a development organization."

Multilateralism is pivotal for delivering the triple promises of 2015 embodied in the "Nairobi Maafikiano" (adopted by governments at the UNCTAD 14 conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in July 2016).

The boldness of the 2030 agenda requires equally bold changes in the development system, the UNCTAD Secretary-General emphasised.

The challenges facing developing countries are increasingly context-specific and integrated in nature, whether they are LDCs, LLDCs (land-locked developing countries), SIDS (small island developing states), small and vulnerable economies, or middle-income countries.

"And we must change how we work in order to renew the spirit of multilateralism called for in the SDGs and the Nairobi Maafikiano," he said.

Speaking on United Nations reform, Dr Kituyi pointed out that efforts to reposition the UN development system towards better support for Agenda 2030 have significant and direct implications for UNCTAD.

Increased attention to the humanitarian-development-security nexus has led to greater focus on the role of prevention, tackling root causes, and finding synergies between human rights, development and security.

The focus on sustaining peace is critical and necessary, but also requires continued focus on productive capacity and infrastructure development, for the long-term benefit of the growth and transformation that underpin sustainable peace, he said.

As part of the repositioning of the UN Development System, the entire United Nations is increasingly called upon to take a thought leadership role, identifying and leading collective international responses to "frontier issues."

"This is at the core of our competences at UNCTAD," said Dr Kituyi, adding however that in discharging its responsibilities, UNCTAD will need also to collaborate more deeply and work more closely with other actors engaged in activities that touch on UNCTAD's diverse areas of work.

He noted that under tightening fiscal constraints and their implication for the regular budget, reliance on extra-budgetary resources is growing.

He said that given the constrained fiscal environment, and the demand for greater field presence, designing and implementing programmes that deliver concrete results is a daunting test for UNCTAD at this definite moment.

"Clear ideas and concrete actions are called for. We need to be as explicit as possible and give life to the 2030 Agenda as the defining agenda of our time."

"To rally to the defense of multilateralism we must take a more holistic view towards sustaining peace, promoting prevention through development," said Dr Kituyi.

The Secretary-General went on to highlight some of the key elements of the proposed UN reforms that are particularly relevant to UNCTAD.

For example, he said that the reforms outlined by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his Report to the Membership in June 2017 focus on moving the system from MDGs to SDGs - "this is an area where we are ahead of the curve given the Nairobi Maafikiano spells our way forward."

The reform proposals outline the need for a stronger focus on financing for development (FfD) - "this too is an opportunity foreseen by your creation of the IGE (intergovernmental group of experts) on FfD that begins its deliberations this fall," Dr Kituyi told the TDB.

Turning to the issue of implementation of the Nairobi Maafikiano, Dr Kituyi said: "UNCTAD 14 took us "from decisions to actions" - now one year later we are busy turning actions into results."

According to the UNCTAD Secretary-General, the Nairobi Maafikiano lays out a clear role for UNCTAD to deliver integrated policies for productive capacity.

In addition, Dr Kituyi said, "the Maafikiano reaffirmed and strengthened UNCTAD's role in financing for development, and as focal point in the UN system for the integrated treatment of trade and development, supporting gainful integration of developing countries into the international economy, as we have for more than 50 years."

"As we complete this first year of Maafikiano Implementation, it's important to acknowledge that in light of the challenging external context, our approach is balancing agility with prudence. We have prioritized those elements of the Maafikiano that are the newest, and the most impactful, particularly given the challenge of early harvest goals in the SDG."

This was the case for UNCTAD's work this year on the Ocean's economy and SDG 14, the only other goal besides SDG 17 explicitly mentioned in the Maafikiano.

Dr Kituyi also said as world trade remains stagnant, the Maafikiano spells out a stronger work program on the digital economy to help developing countries benefit from this new source of trade.

Amidst the changing climate, the global South is coming into its own as de facto defender of globalization and multilateralism, as foreseen at UNCTAD 14.

In this context, he pointed out that UNCTAD contributed to the "Belt and Road" Forum (held by China) this past Spring and has a new MoU (memorandum of understanding) with the government of China.

Cooperation focused on infrastructure development and connectivity has massive potential to link developing regions both physically and virtually, he said.

Dr Kituyi also said that "Our growing "smart partnerships" with the private sector are driving technological change and empowering development."

He said that he welcomed UNCTAD's Special Adviser for Young Entrepreneurs and Small Business, Mr. Jack Ma, to Africa for the first time in July to visit Nairobi and Kigali, to appreciate the importance and potential of Africa, as a digital frontier on the leading edge of innovation that will drive the next phase of globalization.

Among the commitments that emerged from the trip were promising opportunities for stronger future South- South smart partnerships, including a pledge to train entrepreneurs from 100 developing countries, as well as a $10 million grant for innovative start-ups in Africa over the next one year.

The UNCTAD Secretary-General also highlighted another key pledge of the Maafikiano which was to strengthen UNCTAD's work on LDCs.

He also said that UNCTAD's work in Africa has continued to be of central importance, as exemplified by its Regional Office in Addis Ababa, where UNCTAD is expanding the small but efficient team.

Finally, UNCTAD's work on Competition Policy and Consumer Protection, which was also expanded by the Maafikiano, has grown markedly by this year, particularly in support to the G-20 work on digital economy and consumer policy.

"This work is particularly important in terms of the support we can offer to middle-income countries, and Economies in Transition," he said.


"Going forward we will continue our efforts putting UNCTAD's three pillars to work in the service of productive capacity in developing countries," said Dr Kituyi.

On the so-called "Phase II" of the inter-governmental revitalization, called for in the Maafikiano, he said "my own approach to Maafikiano implementation, given the tense external context, has been to temper agility with prudence."

Dr Kituyi highlighted that a key aspect of the Phase II revitalization, in order to feed into other intergovernmental processes more effectively, is a very simple reform, which he called on members to support right now at this meeting.

"The timing of the TDB needs to change in order to make our deliberations more effective and impactful given the broader intergovernmental calendar," he said.

"This TDB we are piloting a three-day high-level segment, before the regular session takes place later this week and next. I would propose that during this session, you should decide to schedule the next regular TDB session's high level segment, not for next fall, but for next Spring before the summer break. This is a logical and easy move as it will permit you to consider the outcomes of the IGEs (intergovernmental groups of experts) before the HLPF (High Level Political Forum)/ECOSOC and before next year's GA (UN General Assembly) session."

Dr Kituyi also noted that many members have called for an assessment of the progress on various paragraphs of the Maafikiano, including by SDG and by expenditures.

He said: "Allow me to remind you of a key difference between the Maafikiano and previous UNCTAD mandates - something which many of you cited in the Reflections Exercise to differing degrees. You will recall that UNCTAD 14 was negotiated, not by divisional sub-themes, but by cross-cutting sub-themes, as a unified whole addressing the trade and development challenges in an integrated manner."

"I am convinced that this approach has been further validated by the UN reform discussions," he said, adding that he intends to continue making UNCTAD deliver more effectively as one, in particular vis-a-vis the cross-cutting actions by which UNCTAD contributes to the SDGs.

"Not through standalone silo-like Divisional work programmes. Cross-divisional collaboration must become the rule in UNCTAD, not the exception," he said.

"This as you know will not happen overnight. Therefore, what may seem like a simple paragraph by paragraph accounting exercise of looking at themes and activities in a matrix is actually part of broader much more in-depth discussion within the Secretariat about how we work together and in partnership with others," he added.

"We are one year into implementation of the Nairobi Maafikiano, but this means we are but one year away from the Mid-Term Review. It is my intention that this internal reflection be resolved in time for the Mid-Term Review next year. And indeed many of our broader questions about UN Reform will also be resolved by then," said Dr Kituyi.

In the meantime, he said that he intends to create a special group of "Friends of UNCTAD" composed of eminent persons, "whom I shall use as a sounding board for our internal reflections."

"It is my intention that our Mid-Term Review leave us with not only a full appreciation of the revitalized role of the strengthened UNCTAD called for in the Maafikiano, but also a basis to begin the negotiations for UNCTAD 15," Dr Kituyi concluded.