Policy Statement by Mr Kim Hak-Su
Monday, 20 May 2002
Mr Chairman, Honourable Ministers,
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the Ministerial segment of the Fifty-eighth Commission session. My calendar says that only 13 months have passed since we last met. Yet it almost seems that world events have outraced time: The September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States. The war in Afghanistan. Dangers of conflict in West Asia. And, now, renewed clashes in the Middle East.
True, these are events whose long-term consequences we may now only dimly perceive. But I believe we can already draw some important conclusions from them. Perhaps most notable is that individual nation states should never take the twin pillars of security and prosperity for granted.
As for a lesson, if a simple one may be drawn from the sequence of events unfolding since September 11th it is this: only through mutual cooperation and consultation can the world establish and maintain the conditions in which the objectives of peace, security and prosperity can be achieved. It is to the credit of everyone here that the United Nations and ESCAP continuously work toward this practical and noble ideal. Even as I speak today, East Timor will be officially submitting its formal application to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Dili, to join the United Nations. We look forward to this new country taking its place among the family of nations.
2001 proved to be a problematic year for much of the ESCAP region. Economic growth slowed sharply in most economies. Coming so soon after the 1997-1998 crisis, this slowdown re-ignited concerns about economic and social stability in several countries. On the bright side, broadly speaking, prospects for the region are substantially better today than they were just a few months ago. But political and economic uncertainties loom on the horizon and their impact is not easy to predict. As a result, difficult policy issues and challenges confront the ESCAP region.
Over the last five or more years the United States economy has been the principal growth engine for the global economy and, more particularly, for many of the fastest growing economies in the ESCAP region. Understandably then, as discussed in the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2002, the economic performance of the ESCAP region in 2001 was affected by the abrupt slowdown in the United States economy. To make matters worse, in 2001, the Japanese economy experienced its third output contraction since 1993. Against this background, there was widespread fear that the events of 11 September 2001 would have a drastic impact on business and consumer confidence and thus prolong the global slowdown. Fortunately, such fears have proved to be largely unfounded. Still, the overall effects of the deceleration in global growth resulted in a reduction of almost 4 percentage points in the 2001 GDP growth rate of ESCAP developing economies.
As we look ahead over the next 12 months - even though many current economies are much improved over the final months of 2001 - prospects for the region appear mixed. Consensus is that the ESCAP region should see a modest improvement in 2002 over 2001 performance as export growth picks up. However, any prudent assessment of the ESCAP region must acknowledge that significant challenges and vulnerabilities remain for most economies. Slowdowns of the magnitude experienced in 2001 bring with them a rise in unemployment and a spillover that causes greater social distress. Furthermore, a loss of output also means lower tax revenues for many governments, which reduces ability to provide the public resources needed to grapple with urgent social problems facing the region.
From an external perspective, a significant short-term threat to recovery is high and so are volatile energy prices. Oil prices have risen substantially since the beginning of the year. And current tensions in West Asia suggest that prices could rise still higher and experience additional, periodic bouts of volatility. In such a scenario, consumer confidence could weaken sharply in the region and hamper the nascent recovery.
As you know, economic policies are not conceived in a vacuum. They have to be squarely anchored to a commitment to fight the scourge of poverty in the region. As delegates to the Monterrey International Conference on Financing for Development noted, poverty and inequalities provide a breeding ground for violence, crime, corruption and terrorism. Nothing can therefore take precedence over the fight to eradicate poverty. It is economic growth that provides the resources to fight poverty. And it is the responsibility of all governments to work toward achieving a high momentum of growth and to ensure that growth promotes, and not retards, social cohesion. Moreover, no section of the population should ever be excluded from the benefits of growth and development. That's because it is only when the benefits of growth reach all segments that sustainable growth can become a reality.
Sustainable development issues have been at the forefront of the global development agenda as the regional preparatory process for the World Summit on Sustainable Development - or WSSD - takes shape. Managing globalization is one of ESCAP's three priority themes and sustainable development is a major component of it.
To better manage globalization, we must bring the technological and economic forces that drive globalization into harmony with the forces that drive people to protect the environment and conserve natural resources. This is especially key for our region. You see, while economic growth has been impressive in the region in the last two decades, the state of the environment has deteriorated considerably. In fact, this economic/environmental dynamic was the central message of the State of the Environment Report 2000, released by ESCAP soon after the last Commission session.
Last year, the Commission decided that the theme topic for the current session should be "Sustainable social development in a period of rapid globalization: challenges, opportunities and policy options". This topic could not be more timely. As globalization surges forward, not only are some of its economic consequences called into question, but its impact on social development is increasingly recognized and being hotly debated.
The theme study prepared by the secretariat notes that globalization, particularly international trade and investment, has stimulated economic growth over the past decades. Poverty rates in the ESCAP region were substantially reduced and in many countries employment was greatly expanded, especially for women - this is good news. But unfortunately, the benefits of globalization did not reach all countries or groups within countries on an equal basis. As last year's theme study highlighted, regional and other disparities have widened concurrently with rapid globalization. Achieving sustainable social development was difficult enough when economies in the region were achieving robust growth. It will be far more challenging in the current climate of slower economic growth rates.
The theme study addresses this challenge. It stresses that social equity is an important element in poverty reduction. Equity not only refers to income but also to opportunities for access to requisites for human capacity building, including health, education and training. The study emphasizes that investment in human capital is essential not only to social development but also for healthy and sustained economic development.
The theme study concludes that those economies that participated most actively in global economic processes in the recent past also expanded their overall employment the most significantly. Because continuing economic development requires shifts to ever-higher levels of technology, modern labour forces must acquire the necessary skills and be frequently re-trained. Social and economic empowerment of women is also a key component to sustaining development. The Asian economic crisis demonstrated that social protection systems in many countries were inadequate to prevent a temporary downturn in the economy from propelling many workers and their families into poverty. Both coverage and size of benefits were inadequate to deal with the situation. Governments should employ social protection systems as integral and permanent components of social development to catalyse self-sufficiency, rather than use them as piecemeal hand-outs.
Sustainable social development can only be achieved when all societal
groups - including the poor and disadvantaged - are able to participate
in the development process. Participation must include full representation
of these groups in the planning and decision-making that affects them.
In the face of globalization, much can be achieved by regional cooperation
on trade and investment, environmental and resource issues, as well as
labour migration, and human security issues. It is my determined goal
that ESCAP becomes more responsive to members' needs in each of these
Population factors play a critical role in development and, hence, in our efforts to eradicate poverty. The ESCAP region as a whole has made significant strides in reducing fertility and improving the quality of life of its population. Yet, as I have often remarked, there are an estimated 800 million people still living in poverty in our region. Most of the poor have only limited access to information and services on reproductive health, including family planning services. This results in the persistence of high fertility, poor health and elevated levels of infant, child and maternal mortality.
Furthermore, the region faces challenges of rapid urbanization and an increase in the number of older persons and young adults on a scale never experienced before. According to United Nations' projections, 48 per cent of the population in Asia will live in urban areas in the year 2020, against only 37 per cent in the year 2000. This rapidly growing urban population will need access to basic infrastructure and services and will need to find an environment conducive to urban economic growth.
The region is also facing the accelerated spread of HIV/AIDS, which will adversely impact the health, well-being and economic productivity of people in affected areas. ESCAP together with UNFPA is convening the Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference during 11-17 December 2002 here in Bangkok to address a range of issues that include HIV/AIDS and Poverty, Population Ageing and Migration, Urbanization and Poverty. The theme of the Conference is Population and Poverty in Asia and the Pacific.
In line with the current focus on poverty reduction and dissemination of best practices, ESCAP carried out feasibility studies in Cambodia, the Lao PDR and Nepal to assess the potential of replicating the "Saemaul Undong" strategy of rural development of the Republic of Korea. We are pleased to report that ESCAP was greatly impressed by the sincere interest and commitment displayed by the national counterparts, as well as by the proposed communities in these countries to participate in the replication programme. The programme, funded by KOICA, the Korea International Cooperation Agency, is expected to start later on this year.
The resolve embodied in the United Nations Millennium Declaration to achieve a significant improvement in the lives of million of slums dwellers by 2020 - this was proposed in the "Cities without Slums" initiative. Joint activities with the Regional Network of Local Authorities for the Management of Human Settlements and the Network of Local Government Training and Research Institutes in Asia and the Pacific are ongoing. Through these activities, ESCAP is seeking to build the capacity of local governments and other urban stakeholders for poverty alleviation and good urban governance, in line with the goals of the Millennium Declaration to strengthen local governance. One outstanding example of this is ESCAP's organization of the Asia-Pacific Summit of Women Mayors and Councillors in Phitsanulok, Thailand, in June 2001. This valuable summit was held to promote the advancement of women in local government. Thanks to funding from the Government of Japan, ESCAP is now following up this regional meeting with national summits in selected countries.
Assisting countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, abbreviated MDGs, has become the driving force of much of the work of the United Nations system. The Secretary-General's Report on Progress towards Implementing the Millennium Declaration, which, in his words, "represents an unprecedented consensus on the human condition and what to do about it", will be based on the broad national ownership of the process and on the full involvement of the regional commissions. It is therefore expected that monitoring the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and improving poverty indicators will be high on the agenda of the regional commissions in the years to come, as will providing assistance to countries in reaching the agreed targets and goals. The MDGs also represent a partnership between developed and developing countries to create an environment conducive to facilitating development and poverty reduction in the region.
In the light of their significance, both ESCAP and the UNDP have taken a joint initiative to support the achievement of the MDGs in Asia and the Pacific region, under which they began implementing a three-year project for this purpose. It is worth noting here that one of main outputs of this project will be the preparation of a regional report on the State of Progress Towards the Achievements of the Millennium Development Goals in Asia and the Pacific. We expect to launch the envisaged report next year in March or April simultaneously in Bangkok and New York. To carry out this project, I have established the ESCAP-UNDP Poverty Centre in my office, which became operational last November. This Centre will also spearhead ESCAP's efforts in meeting the target of reducing by half the proportion of people living in absolute poverty by year 2015.
The Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference held in Doha last November agreed on a broad programme of future negotiations. This is an important result. A well-functioning rules-based multilateral trading system is fundamental to sustained economic growth and poverty reduction in the ESCAP region. Nevertheless, the Doha outcome brings to the fore a number of complex implications for the multilateral trading system and the future development path of the region. Given that the most difficult decisions on the new issues have been postponed to the Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference, the next 18 months or so will be crucial for the developing countries. In recognition of this, ESCAP is accelerating the delivery of our technical assistance activities through a range of analytical studies and regional policy dialogues. This will culminate in an ESCAP high-level meeting of trade officials to be held prior to the Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference.
Information and communications technologies are important tools for empowering developing countries to further their economic and social development. The Millennium Declaration provides a compelling mandate for providing support to enable member countries to benefit from ICT. ESCAP is working very closely with the Governments of China and India, as well as with the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity and the International Telecommunications Union to establish an Asia-Pacific Regional ICT network.
In this regard, the ESCAP secretariat will continue to work to implement Commission Resolution 57/4 on Regional Cooperation for Information and Communications Technologies. Indeed, regional cooperation in this field is an essential plank in the preparations for the forthcoming World Summit on the Information Society - a summit in which ESCAP has been actively engaged. We are also in the process of developing a focused, long-term programme of assistance to ESCAP member countries, based on our mandates, country needs and priorities and our in-house situation. The programme will elaborate on our goals, develop an enabling environment for ICT, and bring satellite-based ICT applications to bear on economic and social development.
As globalization intensifies, the pressure on the region's transport system will also intensify. To help countries address this daunting challenge, ESCAP is committed to formulating and implementing responsive and effective programmes in the transport sector. Such programmes will provide opportunities for mobility and access to national, regional and global markets. In our vision for the future, ESCAP recognizes the vital role of transport in supporting poverty reduction strategies through job creation and economic growth. At the same time, we remain committed to supporting protection of the environment, as well as human health and safety.
In promoting development of an efficient and integrated transport network that smoothes the movement of goods and people within the ESCAP region and between our region and others, the secretariat is guided by the Seoul Declaration on Infrastructure Development in Asia and the Pacific. This declaration includes phase II of the Regional Action Programme of the New Delhi Action Plan on Infrastructure Development in Asia and the Pacific.
One of my strongest desires has long been to propel the economies in transition and the Pacific island economies of ESCAP forward - to help launch them into the mainstream of development. In February 2002, I travelled to Bishkek to attend a meeting of the Regional Advisory Committee of SPECA to explore possibilities of strengthening cooperation with ESCAP. In July 2002, I plan to visit the Pacific to consult with Ministers from the South Pacific Forum countries who will be attending the Forum Economic Ministers Meeting in Port Vila. There is an urgent need to make the two Special Bodies more effective. Further, we need to determine how ESCAP and its Pacific Operations Centre can be of better service to the economies of the Pacific. To this end, I will continue to engage with ministers and officials from both these groups of countries on development issues affecting the region.
In conclusion, let me briefly update you on matters concerning the revitalization of ESCAP. The Secretary-General has recently set in motion a new and far-reaching process of strengthening the Organization to align itself with the priorities set out in the Millennium Declaration. In this context, the comprehensive re-engineering of ESCAP's programmes, conference and secretariat structures that has been underway for well over a year fall well within the Secretary-General's plans for the strengthening and revitalization of the United Nations. Last year, the Commission suggested that the secretariat should clearly define ideas for the revitalization of ESCAP. They asked for these ideas to be submitted to the members and associate members for consideration during an intergovernmental meeting to be held prior to the fifty-eighth session of the Commission.
In pursuance of the suggestion, the Intergovernmental Meeting to Review the Conference Structure of the Commission was convened in Bangkok from 26 to 28 March 2002. That Meeting endorsed my proposal to focus ESCAP's programme of work on three key thematic areas: poverty reduction, managing globalization and addressing emerging social issues. The Meeting supported the proposal to restructure the conference structure by establishing three thematic committees to correspond to the thematic areas. At the same time, it was resolved that the thematic approach should be balanced by the establishment of eight sectoral subcommittees to sharpen the focus of ESCAP's work.
The Meeting decided to recommend a draft resolution on restructuring the conference structure of the Commission for submission to the current session for consideration and approval. I look forward to having a frank and purposeful discussion with you on these matters at the Ministerial Round Table tomorrow. For my part, I have taken some initial steps to prepare for and facilitate the process of change within the secretariat. A Change Management Team will develop a secretariat structure in line with the new programme and conference structures.
May I finish by saying I am excited about our future prospects and I
look forward to your strong support in making the process of ESCAP revitalization
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