Press Releases

                                                                                                                            30 June 2004

    UN Action Can Mean Difference between Life and Death in World’s Poorest Countries, Says Deputy Secretary-General to ECOSOC

    NEW YORK, 28 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette’s address to the 2004 High-Level Segment of the Economic and Social Council in New York, 28 June:

    It is a pleasure to join you for the opening of this High-Level Segment of the Economic and Social Council.  I am very glad that President Kerekou of Benin and a large number of ministers from many countries are here today.  The Secretary-General regrets that he cannot be here to greet you, as he has just left on a long journey to Africa and Asia.  But he asked me to tell you how glad he is that the Council is this year focusing on the development challenges facing the 50 Least Developed Countries.

    If multilateralism is to be meaningful, international development cooperation must be at the top of the global agenda and few feel the importance of this cooperation more than the over 700 million women, men and children in the Least Developed Countries.  For them, the decisions of the United Nations, and the extent to which they are followed up with action, can literally mean the difference between opportunity and poverty, peace and war, and life and death.

    For them, perhaps no issue on the agenda of the United Nations is as important as achieving real progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.  And for the international community as a whole, working to meet those goals is a vital part of keeping our word and advancing the purposes of the Charter.

    Sustained economic growth is, of course, a sina qua non for success in those efforts.  It is encouraging that there are signs of a global economic recovery, with global growth expected to be about four per cent this year, and improved short-term growth in some developing countries.

    But the global economic environment remains uncertain -- an uncertainty only aggravated by high energy prices.  Moreover, there are great disparities in the trends among developing countries, and we cannot be confident that the recent positive growth in some of them will be sustained -- particularly in those which are heavily dependent on agriculture, and which have to import energy.

    In any case, the green shoots of economic growth will not magically blossom into real progress towards the Millennium Development Goals unless they bring benefits and opportunities to the poor.  And that will not happen automatically.  Policies and programmes that target the poor must also be in place for the goals to be met.

    As the report before you points out, on current trends, very few of the LDCs are likely to achieve the poverty reduction goals contained in the Brussels Programme of Action and the Millennium Declaration.  That forecast only underscores the need for sustained policy reforms, greater focus on social investments, and more effective mobilization of resources.

    Of course, the severe poverty in the LDCs is not only a result of economic stagnation -- it is also a cause of it. Poor States must spare no effort to strengthen the efficiency, transparency and accountability of governance.  It is vital that they invest more heavily in health, education and basic infrastructure. They should do everything they can to support home-grown entrepreneurs, tap the potential of remittances from emigrants, and attract foreign direct investment.

    But their efforts will only bear fruit if they are matched by the efforts of development partners.

    Both the quantity and the quality of overseas development assistance need to be stepped up.  In the Brussels Programme of Action, donor countries committed to increasing aid flows to LDCs to 0.2 per cent of Gross National Product.  Rich countries could make no better investment than to keep this promise.  And at Monterrey, donors acknowledged the importance of aligning the aid they give to national development strategies, improving aid coordination, and reducing the unpredictability of aid flows.  If donors channel more aid through national budgeting processes, and ensure the sustainability of aid flows over the long term, the aid they give will be much more effective.

    The crippling debt burden of many poor countries also requires more attention.  Real progress has been made through the Enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.  But the wheels of that initiative have turned slowly, with only a relatively small number of LDCs reaching the completion point.  Even for them, long-term debt sustainability remains a concern.  The Initiative needs to be speeded up, and, in certain cases, topped up.  If we can consider forgiving the debts of Iraq, why not for the poorest nations?

    Giving with one hand will not work as long as the world takes away with the other -- and that is exactly what is happening with quotas, subsidies and tariffs that stunt growth in poor countries and stifle their ability to trade.  I commend a number of initiatives that have been taken to make the playing field a little more level -- including the EU’s “Everything but Arms” initiative, the US’s “African Growth and Opportunity Act”, and similar bilateral initiatives by Japan, Canada, Australia and others.  Stronger South-South trade cooperation and integration is important too. But there is no substitute for revitalizing the Doha development agenda, in particular to remove, or at least substantially reduce, the crippling effect of agricultural subsidies on Least Developed Countries.  Without that, we cannot achieve the coherence that is so vital to our approach to development in general, and trade in particular -- as was underlined recently at UNCTAD XI.

    I hope that this High-Level Segment of ECOSOC will lead to a renewed commitment to the Millennium Development Goals and the Brussels Programme of Action. This could mark a first step in the preparations for next year’s high-level event, which will review progress in the implementation of the Development Goals.

    The 2005 review will also be an opportunity to examine how we can strengthen our multilateral institutions, including, of course, this Council. It is particularly important to improve the Council’s capacity to promote policy coherence and to coordinate efforts to make globalization work for everyone.

    But let’s not wait until next year to renew the vigour and determination with which we push for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Let’s start now.  After all, we have clear and agreed targets, and we have made solemn promises to work to meet them.  We owe it to the peoples of the world -- particularly those in poorest nations -- to be true to our word.

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