ACPR 353: Executive Secretary's Remarks

Second from Left, Ms. Shamshad Akhtar, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations & Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. UN ESCAP Photo/Gracie Wang

Delivered during the 353rd Session of the Advisory Committee of Permanent Representatives (ACPR) in Bangkok, Thailand

Madame Chairperson,
Excellencies,
Distinguished Members of ACPR,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

As a follow-up to my briefing at the informal ACPR, on 27 February, it is a pleasure today to address my first official ACPR meeting.

Let me express my personal thanks for the warm welcome that has been extended to me. In my brief interactions with ACPR members, it has been encouraging to see that the countries of Asia and the Pacific truly value ESCAP, and regard the Commission as the most comprehensive platform for consultations, deliberations, and policy dialogues among and between member States, the private sector, and civil society.

I believe, from what I have read and seen, and talked to you all, that ESCAP has the potential to shape the future of our region. It can give voice to the priorities of Asia and the Pacific – both in the UN system and in the global development agenda. I look forward to working very closely with you all to foster sustainable development, by strengthening our analytical work, deepening our regional advice and advocacy, as well as promoting the acceleration of Asia-Pacific regional cooperation and integration – a subject very close to my heart.

I would like to take this opportunity to brief you on some important business matters for ESCAP, as well as on a number of my key activities since joining the Commission.

ESCAP Commission Session & Other Meetings

Allow me to discuss three key meetings that are being organized in May and June, starting first with the 70th Commission session.

70th ESCAP Commission Session (23 May 2014)

Following consultations with the Government of Thailand, our own security team, and the Regional Commissions New York Office, we have decided to organize the 70th ESCAP Commission session in two phases this year. The first phase will be held on 23 May 2014, for a single day only. The venue and timing of the subsequent main session will be communicated in due course. The Secretary of the Commission will provide further details on the convening of the Commission session under agenda item 5.

Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (19-21 May 2014)

We plan to convene the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable hopefully from 19 to 21 May 2014. I would like to thank the Government of Thailand for their offer to co-host this meeting, reflecting the importance which Thailand accords to issues of sustainable development. I believe that, given the security situation in the country, this will hopefully be co-hosted with the Government of Thailand outside of Bangkok. Further details will be shared with you after the arrangements have been firmed up with the Government of Thailand.

The Forum will hopefully be built on the outcome of our Asia-Pacific Ministerial Dialogue on the United Nations Development Agenda Beyond 2015. It will also lay the groundwork for discussions at the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on sustainable development. Asia-Pacific’s regional perspectives and priorities will then be shared in July at the second meeting of the HLPF in New York, under the auspices of ECOSOC. Hopefully the Asia-Pacific region will be very well prepared, along with other commissions, to deliver this.

The agenda for the Forum is being structured to ensure that we effectively capture regional voices and priorities, as well as to gain a better understanding of regional and subregional sustainable development architecture and plans. I have requested our Director for the Environment and Sustainable Development to provide you with more details about plans for the Forum under agenda item 6.

Recognizing the regional dimension of sustainable development, the General Assembly has assigned a key role for the United Nations regional commissions to contribute to this work of the HLPF, including through annual regional meetings. In addition, to the substance that we have to provide to sustainable development from the region, we will also need to decide how best to hold this meeting each year, including how it will link to the annual Commission session.

In this regard, we have circulated an information note on linkages between the Forum and the Commission session. The Secretary of the Commission will provide you with more information on this proposal under the same agenda item, and I can share with you what was discussed recently among the regional commissions in Santiago.

ESCAP Outreach Event on Sustainable Financing for Development

In the first half of June, hopefully we plan to hold an outreach event on Sustainable Financing for Development, which is critical as we examine ways to mobilize public and private, as well as long- and short-term financing, for the sustainable development agenda.

I would like to express my personal gratitude and appreciation for the timely commitment by the Russian Federation to hopefully support us with adequate funding, and it is important that some other member States help us by providing some additional financing for this activity. So we hope not only to move forward with this event with the Russian Federation financial support, but I hope that some other member States can confirm their financial support in order for us to successfully hold this event. I know that some of you have already talked to my colleagues and I about potential support, but it is important that we concretize this in the next few days.

The Asia-Pacific region has a rich experience of resource mobilization, and some jurisdictions are known for high savings rates, large financing institutions, strong deposit bases, and for being a home to institutional investors, large reserves, and regional financial architecture – yet these sources of financing have not been effectively intermediated or leveraged to date. I have requested Mr. Aynul Hasan, Chief of the Development Policy Section of our Macroeconomic Policy and Development Division, who has been working very closely with me, to brief you on the program for this outreach meeting under agenda item 7. I would also like to thank the Director of the Macroeconomic Policy and Development Division for his support.

Official Missions

Mission to Santiago for the HLCP

Let me now touch briefly on a few of my official missions that I have had since joining.

I attended the High-level Committee on Programmes (HLCP) in Santiago earlier this month, with the Executive Secretaries of the other regional commissions. We met to discuss common issues and our future modus operandi. There meetings were held on the side-lines of the HLCP. They were, essentially, regional commission coordination meetings, as well as interactions with the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Interregional Policy Cooperation. Also present there was the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Post-2015 Development Agenda, to ensure better understanding of global and regional perspectives. The idea of the meeting between the Executive Secretaries and the Special Advisers was to make sure that we are all on a common platform in order to have a common understanding of global and regional perspectives on the sustainable development agenda.

The regional commissions have agreed to work more closely with the Special Adviser on Interregional Policy Cooperation, and to explore how to better integrate regional inputs and perspectives, not just in our own regions, but also across regions as well. These are critical for both the conceptual and implementation phases of the post-2015 development agenda in the UN system.

As a priority in the coming year, the Executive Secretaries agreed to undertake joint analytical work on the topic of inequality, its various dimensions and issues surrounding data and measurement of inequality. This was a very strong request coming from the two Executive Secretaries of ESCWA and ECLAC. Other key areas highlighted for increased interregional cooperation included financing for development, and the ‘data revolution,’ including strengthening statistical capacities at country level to track progress in implementation of the post-2015 UN development agenda. The idea is that that we could hopefully support the architecture of the sustainable development, but also come up with agreed measurement tools to monitor the progress of the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda. There were a few other topics that were also covered. One was the natural resource management and its governance – recently ECLAC has produced an analytical report on that. We have agreed to also launch a similar product for the Asia-Pacific region. Whether it is a part of the overall exercise that we are doing, or another stand-alone exercise, has yet to be decided.

Discussions were also held about the forthcoming “Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States” to be held in our region, in Samoa, from 1-4 September this year, which I will attend and I am exploring the possibility of convening a side event with our SRO colleagues.

In a special session, the HLCP was briefed on informal understandings reached about the coordination exercise by the regional commissions, and the need for the HLCP to propose to the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) a better integration of regional commissions within the UN system. There are two layers. One is how to better integrate with New York and to raise awareness that the Regional Commissions are a part of the family and are conducting a very fruitful dialogue, which is meaningful for the global agenda. This is important to ensure we are well integrated in the General Assembly and ECOSOC deliberations.

The HLCP is in the process of deliberating the question of being “fit for purpose” as the UN positions itself for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda. Within that context, regional commissions will need to better interface on sustainable development and its financing track. The HLCP will brief the CEB in May about their general deliberations, and are also likely to table the exchanges that we have had on the regional commissions, including our request for possibly being included at the CEB. More formal details of this will be communicated after the deliberations of the CEB have been held in May and I will keep you informed.

United Nations Engagement in G20

As you know I continue to take forward the United Nations engagement with the G20, as the Secretary-General has requested me to remain, on the temporary basis at least, as the UN Sherpa. In this capacity in February, I attended the meeting of the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors held in Sydney. Helen Clark, who is the principle for this track was also there. This round of the G20 was quite vibrant, but confined to issues of global stability and macroeconomic debates.

G20 members agreed informally, at the level of the Finance Ministers, to go very strongly for the growth agenda. They have proposed that they will take to Brisbane, to the leaders, a framework to lift the collective G20 GDP by more than 2 per cent above the trajectory implied by current policies over the next five years. In real terms, this implies value-addition of over US$2 trillion for G20 countries, which of course include some of the members of the Asia-Pacific region too.

Extensive debates took place during the sessions on the spillover impact of the United States Federal Reserve's lowering of the recent bond purchases. Generally, there has been a growing acceptance of the US monetary stance, but emerging markets did raise, quite strongly, their concerns regarding the volatility of financial and currency markets, calling for developed countries to introduce more clarity and improve communications on their monetary policy stance. Emerging markets were advised to focus on putting in place credible macroeconomic policies, addressing domestic fragilities, enhancing exchange rate flexibilities, strengthening prudential macroeconomic frameworks, and building buffers for counter-cyclical movements. Some of this is already happening in our emerging markets, particularly those who are members of G20, quite proactively. In fact, I was struck by the fact how prepared Brazil seems to be because they said it is the reality and we have to strengthen ourselves to deal with the shocks that emerge out of the volatility of capital flows.

The G20 has also been proactive in discussing issues surrounding long-term financing for infrastructure. There were also talks about the need to accelerate compliance with other initiatives, such as IMF governance reforms, which have been delayed quite substantially, and financial regulation. The strengthening of international tax regime was also underscored. The World Bank pointed out that it is preparing itself and looking at innovative modalities to raise its capital without calling for more capital increases from the Board of Governors.

I am, tomorrow evening, heading to the G20 Sherpa meeting which will focus on a range of development initiatives. The growth framework will remain a part of the debate, but what they are attempting to do is talk more about trade policies, infrastructure, long-term investment, employment, energy, anti-corruption and some of these development initiatives, with the objective that all these development initiatives support the strengthening of the G20’s primary goal, which is to go for growth.

On my way back to Bangkok, I will also be addressing the UN System Staff College’s UN Leaders Programme, in Singapore, on the issues of challenges, trends, and opportunities in UN leadership, from the Asia-Pacific perspective. I will brief you about the outcomes of these meetings when next we meet.

Conclusion

To conclude, let me share with you few early thoughts about ESCAP.

It is a substantive regional commission. It has a broad mandate. It has significant achievements to its credit. There are two core dimensions to ESCAP: The first is you - our member States, whose significance in guiding development cannot be over-emphasized. The second is us – the secretariat. To take ESCAP to new heights, which is what I have been mandated to do by the Secretary-General – a critical and pressing requirement given the mandate of the regional commissions in the emerging development agenda, member States and the secretariat will need to work hand-in-glove.

In the years ahead, the secretariat will, of course, redouble its efforts to promote regional cooperation and integration, and to mainstream sustainable development to enhance the region’s resilience, and bring prosperity to all people of Asia and the Pacific. These two priorities, regional cooperation and integration, and mainstreaming sustainable development, are quite critically integrated and interlinked.

The success of the secretariat will, of course, depend on the strong political commitment to regional advancement and the emerging development paradigm of our member States. It is only with your proactive engagement and support that we will elevate ESCAP to new heights, and better serve our region and its people. I hope that you will deliver to us this political commitment, and illustrate this by bringing in the higher leadership in the forthcoming sessions I have talked about, because it will be their visions that will be collated and implemented as we move forward.

I thank you for being here, and look forward to your comments and your advice going forward.