Delegates Call for Multilateralism, Closing Digital Divide to Spur Economic Growth, as Second Committee Debates Globalization, Interdependence

With unilateralism, protectionism and inequalities casting a shadow on globalization, delegates underscored the importance of opening up trade and closing the digital divide in boosting economic growth, as the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) took up globalization and interdependence today.

India’s delegate noted that globalization has kickstarted development by reducing poverty, increasing connectivity, spreading technology, decreasing goods and services costs and strengthening trust in multilateralism.  But globalization today faces challenges from different corners, he added, stressing the need for stronger multilateralism to distribute its fruits.

Speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Saint Lucia’s delegate said his bloc has long experienced the benefits, burdens and unintended consequences of globalization.  These include slow and volatile economic growth, rising levels of unemployment, growing poverty and income inequalities in the face of acute vulnerability to natural hazards and climate change.

Emphasizing that the Sustainable Development Goals will never be achieved without significant new commitments of resources, both within and without borders, he said CARICOM nations “cannot proceed based on hollow words and hope”.

Noting that increasing trade tensions among large economies is creating further uncertainties and disrupting value chains, Nepal’s delegate said the unilateral tendency to redefine globalization’s rules is concerning for all.  “This comes with several spill-overs in almost every part of the world,” he said.

Suffering from the fallout are least developed and landlocked developing countries, who are vulnerable to socioeconomic shocks, lacking the benefits of technology and falling behind in production, he said.  “While the digital divide is widening, the developing countries, especially least developed countries, are struggling to cope with the new modes of production and consumption.”

Addressing middle‑income countries and globalization, the Chief of the Development Research Branch in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs said the global macroeconomic environment is less favourable than it was even two years ago for these nations.  They are often as vulnerable as poorer countries, as higher income fails to automatically reduce development risks, he said, as he introduced a report on development cooperation with middle‑income countries.

Growing protectionism and less favourable terms of market access are currently hampering growth prospects for many middle‑income countries, he continued.  The slowdown in China is cutting demand for commodity exports from many such nations in Africa and Latin America.  Moreover, official development assistance foreign direct investment and remittance flows are weakening, while external debt in a few middle‑income countries are approaching levels observed during the crisis of the 1980s.

Expressing concern over his country’s classification as an upper‑middle income country, Namibia’s delegate said this misleading categorization has been used to deny his country’s access to concessional funding.  “This is exacerbated by high reliance on primary commodity exports, the pervasive effect of disaster risks, external debt and capital flows,” he added.

Reports were also presented by the Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Support and Coordination for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs; the Director of the Division on Technology and Logistics, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; and the Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Liaison Office in New York.

Also speaking today were the observer of the State of Palestine (for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), as well as representatives of the Philippines (for the Like‑minded Group of Supporters of Middle Income Countries), Singapore (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Russian Federation, Indonesia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Mexico, Thailand, China, United Arab Emirates, Cameroon, Bhutan and El Salvador.  A representative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization also spoke, as did an observer for the Holy See.

The Committee will meet again on Friday, 18 October, at 10 a.m. to take up information and communication technology for sustainable development.

Introduction of Reports

MARION BARTHELEMY, Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Support and Coordination for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the Secretary‑General’s report on “Fulfilling the promise of globalization:  advancing sustainable development in an interconnected world” (document A/74/239), noting the importance of trade and technology in driving the benefits of globalization.  She said many developing countries still experience disparities in infrastructure despite those benefits, and inequalities have increased within countries as well.

She stated that race‑to‑the‑bottom dynamics, including in taxation, are not sustainable.  Changes must be made for the poor to benefit from trade, to ensure that the gains are more evenly shared.  She also said globalization is connected to the movement of people, and a driver of global health and well‑being.  The report also addresses the obesity epidemic and the growth of non‑communicable diseases like diabetes, and stresses that Governments must address megatrends that accompany globalization including digitalization and the future of work.  Those Governments can also do more to address the impact of technologies on their societies.  She highlighted the United Nations convening role in organizing discussions on the value systems that guide globalization.

SHAMIKA SIRIMANNE, Director of the Division on Technology and Logistics, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), introduced the Secretary‑General’s report on “Science, technology and innovation for sustainable development” (document A/74/230).  She noted that rapid technological change offers unprecedented opportunities for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  In this age of change, the international community bears responsibility for accessing these technologies as they unfold and deciding what norms and values should guide the change.  These technologies could be valuable tools in delivering on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, but they could also pose new challenges for policymakers and society.  They could have unintended consequences acting against the prosperity and social inclusion or could widen existing gender inequalities as well as geographical and class divides.

She stressed the importance for countries to build digital competencies, with a special focus on gender and youth, in a manner that all of society can benefit from technological change.  She also underscored the need for a broadly shared approach to innovation policy for policymakers and other stakeholders.  They should design as well as implement policies and programmes to harness technological change for achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, understanding the importance of coordinated undertaking and a multi‑stakeholder approach.

MARIE PAULE ROUDIL, Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Liaison Office in New York, introduced the agency’s report on “Culture and sustainable development” (document A/74/286), noting the substantial progress achieved in nine major areas in that domain.  Promotion of arts education and multilingualism are nourishing cultural diversity in 2019, the International Year of Indigenous Languages, raising awareness of the world’s rich heritage of 7,000 languages.  She noted particular efforts in promoting cultural rights to address gender equality concerns, by integrating those principles into UNESCO cultural conventions.

She noted that UNESCO in 2018 launched two global initiatives on capacity‑building, accompanying 16 developing countries in participatory policy monitoring and data collection, and establishing creative frameworks for the creative sectors in 12 developing countries.  She noted that the cultural and creative sector accounts for 3 per cent of the global economy, 30 million jobs worldwide and is the largest employment sector for the young.  She stressed the importance of safeguarding traditional knowledge, preserving cultural heritage and property and developing innovative financing mechanism, as culture often receives less than 1 per cent of national budgets.  Over the reporting period, 105 cultural projects were funded in 54 developing and least developed countries with a budget of over $7 million.  She highlighted the role culture can have as a vehicle for tolerance, understanding and peace, and suggested that going forward, Member States should mainstream culture in their voluntary national reviews.

HAMID RASHID, Chief of the Development Research Branch of the Economic Analysis and Policy Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the Secretary‑General’s report titled “Development cooperation with middle‑income countries” (document A/74/269).  He noted that the global macroeconomic environment is less favourable today than it was two years ago, especially for middle‑income countries.  They are often as vulnerable as many low‑income countries and attaining higher income does not necessarily or automatically reduce their development risk and challenges.  Growing protectionism and less favourable terms of market access are currently constraining growth prospects of many of these countries.  For example, growth deceleration in China is reducing demand for commodity exports from many middle‑income countries in Africa and Latin America.  In addition, rapid technological change is transforming global value chains, potentially squeezing export potentials of these nations.  Official development assistance (ODA), foreign direct investment (FDI) and remittance flows are showing signs of weakness, while external debt levels in a few middle‑income countries are approaching levels observed during the debt crisis of the 1980s.

These vulnerabilities underscore the inadequacy of a single indicator — per capita income — to assess the development needs of middle-income countries, he said.  A more nuanced approach, looking beyond gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, will remain critical for guiding and strengthening development cooperation with and tailoring support for such nations.  Research and innovation, as well as access to new technologies, remain critical for middle‑income countries to boost productivity growth and transition to high‑value added economic activities.  It is imperative that middle‑income countries are able to access both existing and emerging technologies that are most needed for sustainable development, especially those that can enhance food, health and energy security and deliver better environmental outcomes.  Breakthroughs in renewable technologies, biotechnology and digital technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, present immense development opportunities for middle-income countries.  But these nations face considerable challenges in accessing new technologies.  Excessive market concentration and the market power of a few large firms present binding constraints to transfer technology to middle-income countries.

Questions and Answers

The representative of Mexico noted that 50 per cent of the global population still has no access to the Internet and asked Ms. Sirimanne how they can be integrated into that sector and enjoy the benefits of science and technology.

Ms. Sirimanne responded that those numbers are even worse in least developed countries, where only one in five have access.  She noted that UNCTAD is looking at ODA numbers, which are very low, at 1 per cent, in relation to information and communications technology (ICT).  That number was higher a decade ago.  She stressed that connectivity is a critical infrastructure, and the group seeks to build awareness and partnerships to advance it.

Statements

SAHAR NASSER, observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said there is no alternative to multilateralism and a reinvigorated multilateral system, with the United Nations at its centre, is the cornerstone of a renewed approach to fairer and more inclusive and sustainable globalization.  She said that science, technology and innovation are critical to achieve sustainable development and a key means to implement the 2030 Agenda.  The Group recognizes culture as a driver of sustainable development and the importance of respecting and understanding cultural diversity and fostering intercultural understanding and dialogue.  She reiterated that middle‑income countries still face significant challenges in achieving sustainable development.  It is important to address the particular challenges facing countries that are close to surpassing, or have recently crossed the upper middle‑income threshold, but still face structural gaps and vulnerabilities.

KIRA CHRISTIANNE D. AZUCENA (Philippines), speaking on behalf of the Like‑minded Group of Supporters of Middle‑Income Countries, said the bloc accounts for 70 per cent of the world’s population, representing one‑third of the global GDP, and is home to 73 per cent of the world’s poor people.  Despite sharing the same category, the homogeneous classification “middle‑income country” oversimplifies the complexities of the countries falling within the category.  The name does not adequately reflect the diverse challenges facing these countries, which require tailored engagement with the international community, particularly the United Nations system.  She said the Group is concerned that the total external debt stocks in these middle-income developing countries increased by 8 per cent a year over the past decade (2009‑2018) and the combined external debt stock for these States has doubled to more than $2 trillion in 2018, from just above $1 trillion in 2009.  There is a need for sustained efforts towards achieving debt sustainability to avoid a debt crisis.  She stressed that an entire category of countries is being left behind from coordinated assistance as cooperation with middle‑income countries is carried out on an ad hoc basis.  The Group repeats its request that the United Nations development system elaborate a comprehensive system‑wide, long‑term strategy to achieve sustainable development through coordinated support to middle-income countries.

COSMOS RICHARDSON (Saint Lucia), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the bloc has long experienced the benefits, burdens and unintended systematic consequences of globalization.  Their many serious developmental challenges are born of and exacerbated by the current globalized environment.  Slow and volatile economic growth, rising levels of unemployment, high incidence of poverty, inequality of income and wealth, environmental sustainability in the face of acute vulnerability to natural hazards and substantial risks as a result of climate change and rising sea levels continue to impede implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Stressing that the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved without significant new commitments of resources, both within and without borders, he said CARICOM nations “cannot proceed based on hollow words and hope”.

BURHAN GAFOOR (Singapore), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and aligning himself with the Group of 77, affirmed its commitment to a rules‑based multilateral trading system, the engine for regional and global prosperity and growth.  Despite its limitations, the World Trade Organization (WTO) remains the ultimate forum for developed and developing countries to build that framework, he said, making the case against protectionism.  Progressing towards a “digital ASEAN”, he noted the Association’s Smart Cities Network initiative, involving 26 cities working towards sustainably inclusive, vibrant and interconnected urban development.  As ASEAN improves connectivity through sustainable infrastructure, he stated globalization and interdependence are the fundamental building blocks of the 2030 Agenda, requiring intensified regional integration and strengthened partnerships regionally and internationally.

ELENA MELNIK (Russian Federation) stressed the importance of using the positive potential of globalization for the benefit of humankind, thereby reducing poverty and achieving fair economic growth as well as sustainable development.  Globalization should help overcome current negative economic trends like trade wars and unilateral economic measures.  It should also assist in achieving a fair and more even distribution of benefits by reducing inequality.  Adding that her country attaches great importance to helping middle‑income countries, she said stable development in these nations will require structural changes and development strategies.

SILVANY PASARIBU (Indonesia), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and ASEAN, noted globalization and interconnectedness have downsides, including fostering inequality.  She promoted multilateralism as an engine to drive a more equitable globalization and cited the role middle‑income countries have in generating synergies with least developed countries.  However, they face their own challenges and would benefit from concessional financing to avoid the “middle‑income trap”.  She said globalization is a force for good when it generates inclusive and sustainable development.

JUAN MIGUEL GONZÁLEZ PEÑA (Cuba), aligning himself with the Group of 77, said in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, the roles of the United Nations and multilateralism are more critical than ever.  He opposed the unilateral actions of the United States and called for more inclusive globalization.  Citing the development gap between the North and South, from hunger to digitalization to disease, he called for a new international order based on equality.  His Government recognizes the need for increased financing for least developed countries and measurement mechanisms beyond GDP.  Unilateral measures against developing countries violate international law, including the United States blockade, he said, noting 65 nations worldwide have provided assistance to Cuba.

KHALED MOHAMMED ALRAYES (Saudi Arabia), aligning himself with the Group of 77, said his country believes in the huge force of culture and cultural heritage, which have the capacity of bringing change to various areas of life.  Culture brings countries closer to sustainable development, being at the core of development strategies and the 2030 Agenda.  By integrating culture in policies and programmes, the international community can build on rich heritage and customs.  Culture must support development and ensure work opportunities and contribute to global development.

MUDASHIRA HUSAIN (Nigeria), aligning himself with the Group of 77, said ICT are critical enablers of economic development.  As the fourth pillar of Nigeria’s economy, ICT increasingly impact on how the Government delivers services to its people and how citizens participate in public and private life.  He expressed concern about the continued digital divide between regions, countries and people, calling on all stakeholders and development partners to support developing countries in their efforts to achieve a people‑centred, inclusive and development‑oriented information society.

ALEJANDRA GONZALEZ VARGAS (Mexico) said globalization has brought countries together but paradoxically has exacerbated inequalities within them.  Her country is among the world’s 20 largest but some regional populations are being left behind.  She expressed support for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the value of cultural diversity.  All cultures without exception are unique and globalization should not silence their voices, rather amplify them.  Her Government is seeking to democratize access to ICT, especially the Internet.

PAVEENA SUTTHISRIPOK (Thailand), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and ASEAN, said more must be done for all to benefit from globalization.  To reap the benefits of untapped opportunities and escape the middle‑income trap, Thailand is transforming into a knowledge‑based and technological society, focusing on sectors including food security, robotics and mechatronics and the Internet of Things.  Her Government provides 15 years of free education for all, including migrant students, with an emphasis on science, technology engineering and mathematics.  Thailand advocates regional partnerships in trade, financial inclusion and the marine environment.

LI GEN (China), associating himself with the Group of 77, noted that countries are now more connected and interdependent than ever before.  However, the unfair international division of labour has kept developing countries from advancing, while unilateralism and protectionism have cast a shadow on globalization.  The international community must stay committed to development, as it can overcome the root causes of conflict and fulfil people’s desire for a better life.  Always a defender and advocate of globalization, his country is sharing its opportunities and insights with other nations.  In 2018, it successfully held an international trade forum, which attracted thousands from other countries and was a major step in opening up China to the world.

MAHESH KUMAR (India), aligning himself with the Group of 77, said globalization has benefitted the world by reducing poverty, increasing connectivity, diffusing technology, decreasing the costs of goods and services and strengthening trust in multilateralism and global governance.  Today globalization faces challenges from different corners as not everyone has benefited from its fruits.  The international community needs to take steps to reverse the trends of anti‑globalization.  More collaborative and effective multilateralism is needed to manage the opportunities and challenges.  The international community needs to bridge the growing digital divide to ensure the fourth industrial revolution is an inclusive one.  The United Nations should play a normative and convening role in organizing discussions around the value systems needed to guide efforts in areas related to globalization.  The 2030 Agenda provides a blueprint for a more inclusive, just and sustainable world.  India’s recent initiatives, such as its International Solar Alliance and Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, are examples of its belief in the value of collective action.

AYSHA ALMENHALI (United Arab Emirates), aligning herself with the Group of 77, noted that 2019 was proclaimed the Year of Tolerance in her country.  She highlighted the importance of generating sustainable societies, and said her Government is building an interfaith place of worship comprising a mosque, church and synagogue, as well as restoring monuments destroyed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).  She said the United Arab Emirates prioritizes digital cooperation through an international governance framework, and is looking towards the future in developing an Arab Outer Space initiative.  Citing the vital importance of artificial intelligence in the fourth industrial revolution, she said it requires collective work and cooperation to reap its benefits and mitigate potential risks.

OUMIA PABA SALE (Cameroon), associating herself with the Group of 77, said her country supports the idea of responding to developmental challenges through multilateralism, especially those pertaining to trade and technological advances.  She stressed the need for in‑depth reform of global governance, including the United Nations and international trading system, which should be transparent and fair.  She also advocated for reduced commissions on remittances and digital transfer in efforts to overcome challenges related to hunger and health, adding that her country is undertaking efforts to accelerate the emergence of affordable digital infrastructure in rural areas.

KALDEN DORJI (Bhutan), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed Countries, said that the current state of the world’s economy confirms that the benefits of globalization can be fundamentally unequal and ultimately unsustainable.  While inequality between States has fallen over the past decades inequality within countries is increasing.  Guided by the development philosophy of the gross national happiness index, Bhutan has always sought to carefully balance economic growth with social development, environment sustainability and cultural preservation.  Bhutan is committed to ensuring that every man, woman and child in the country enjoys the fruits of economic, social and technological progress.  This policy intervention of “leaving no one behind” is carried through various flagship programmes and Government initiatives focusing on uplifting all segments of society.  Citizens are also encouraged to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects from early‑on in their education.

WADE HENCKERT (Namibia), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that development cooperation with middle‑income countries plays a critical role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Expressing concern over his country’s classification as an upper‑middle income country, he said that this categorization is misleading and has been used as a basis for denying Namibia access to concessional funding.  Inequality remains a major obstacle in efforts to bridge the gap between and within communities.  Namibia remains one of the most unequal societies.  “This is exacerbated by high reliance on primary commodity exports, the pervasive effect of disaster risks, external debt and capital flows,” he added.  The criteria for the categorization and graduation of the least developed countries currently being used by the Committee for Development Policy could be used as a good reference for classifying middle‑income countries.  Extreme weather shocks continue to impact Namibia’s productivity, he added, calling on development partners to scale up efforts and meet their climate financing commitments in accordance with the Paris Agreement.  He commended the United Nations for providing support to smallholder farmers, which has strengthened their adaptive capacity to adopt climate-resilient agricultural production practices.

EGRISELDA LOPEZ (El Salvador), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Middle‑Income Countries, emphasized the importance of modernizing the State, training and capacity‑building for workers.  Her Government is also working on a digital agenda of transformation over the coming decade, with an eye to improving competitiveness.  She expressed hope that other sectors will be included during the implementation phase.  She emphasized that the international economic classification based on per capita income is inadequate as it does not consider inequality within the country or its vulnerability to climate change.

PRATHMA UPRETY (Nepal), associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed Countries, said that increasing trade tension among large economies is creating further uncertainties and disrupting value chains.  The unilateral tendency to redefine the rules of globalization is concerning for all.  “This comes with several spillovers in almost every part of the world,” she emphasized.  Least developed and landlocked developing countries are vulnerable to various socioeconomic shocks.  The benefits of technology have not been accrued evenly by all.  “While the digital divide is widening, the developing countries, especially least developed countries, are struggling to cope with the new modes of production and consumption,” she added.  Reforms in global governance and international financial institutions must be swift.  Mobility of people is also one of the more important facets of globalization.  With more than 10 per cent of Nepal’s population living outside the country, ensuring human rights and well‑being of all migrants remains a priority.

FREDRIK HANSON, observer for the Holy See, said globalization can be a constructive means for bringing people together, sharing knowledge and technology, engaging in mutually beneficial trade and cooperating to solve common problems, including mass migration.  This kind of globalization should be promoted and supported by multilateral efforts founded on good will, faith of the parties and readiness to cooperate.  However, globalization can also be harmful when it manifests itself as unilateral action in response to international challenges, narrow partisan or nationalistic policies that exclude and alienate or dominate the powerful over the weak.  These are examples of a globalization that corrodes the human fraternity and solidarity underpinning healthy cooperation.  The most devasting consequences of such negative globalization are felt by the most disadvantaged countries in the weakest sectors of the population.

CLAUDIA LINKE-HEEP, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), noted that leveraging opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution is critical to middle‑income countries to strengthen institutional, financial and technological capabilities and avoid the “middle‑income trap”.  In many of those countries, the share of competitive industrial manufacturing sectors with high‑value addition remains low.  Exports trending towards low value‑added agriculture are vulnerable to global fluctuations, meaning those countries are unable to compete with low‑wage manufacturers in low‑income countries or technology innovation in high‑income States.  She noted UNIDO assists them in bridging the technological divide between developed and developing countries and also promotes human capital by promoting skill development, especially among women and young people.  The agency is further helping middle‑income countries achieve green industrial transformation through low‑carbon technologies, circular waste management and synergistic business models.

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