Game-Changing Resolutions for Inclusive & Sustainable Transformation in Asia and the Pacific
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We began the Ministerial segment on Monday with the words of Indian Prime Minister Nehru at the 1st Asian Relations Conference in 1947. It seems appropriate to bring this session to a close on a similarly inspirational note.
“When the history of our present times is written, this event may well stand out as a landmark which divides the past of Asia from the future. […] We are passing through trials and tribulations. […] this is inevitable in an age of mighty transition. […] Strong winds are blowing all over Asia. Let us not be afraid of them, but rather welcome them, for only with their help can we build the new Asia of our dreams.”
Sixty five years later, the winds of change are once again sweeping our region. Our choice…our opportunity…is to use these headwinds as a force to propel us towards a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient future.
The delegates from our Pacific island member States will tell you that the best way for a sailor to use a headwind is to change tack – setting your sails in a new direction that harnesses the wind to carry you to the destination you choose.
In this time of transition, of global turbulence and volatility, Asia and the Pacific must harness the headwinds of our external environment by changing tack, growing and working together to set our sails on a new course of closer regional economic integration.
I would like to thank each and every one of you who has participated in the 68th Commission session over this past week.
From our Senior Officials Segment to the Special Body on the Pacific Island Countries, from our Ministerial Roundtable to the High Level Panel on the Survey and our G20 consultations – it has been a very rich week of extremely vibrant debates, discussions and decision-making.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Challenges & Uncertainties Identified
The work of this Commission session has identified a series of specific challenges and uncertainties that are best addressed by the countries of our region acting together – in a more coordinated and integrated way.
Foremost amongst these is that, although strong regional growth has lifted more than half a billion people out of poverty over the past two decades, our growth model has contributed to wider social inequalities, the depletion of our natural resources, climate change and significant damage to our environment.
Our discussions reflect growing regional agreement on the need to make our growth more inclusive, greener and more sustainable – closing development gaps and strengthening social protection systems as new drivers of Asia-Pacific growth.
This is especially important as we approach the Rio+20 summit – which will be the best chance to forge global agreement on the generational change necessary to shift to more sustainable growth paths. Asia-Pacific perspectives, especially those from our Pacific island countries, will be crucial to advance the negotiations on the shape of the post-2015 development agenda.
Global turbulence and uncertainty, commodity volatility, and higher food & fuel prices have become the ‘new normal’ of the global economy and they are the second category of major challenges identified in our discussions. We know that the spike in food prices in 2010, for instance, meant that another 19.4 million people were kept in poverty across our region.
These challenges hit hardest in our poorest communities – increasing poverty and hunger. They affect our least developed, landlocked and small island developing states with even greater intensity. To reduce food prices we must increase agricultural productivity and foster a new knowledge-based green revolution which would make agriculture more sustainable. We must also work together with our global partners to reduce speculation on the commodity markets.
A third set of challenges identified is the impact on our regional economies of responses in the developed economies to the second stage of the global financial crisis.
Growing protectionism to protect domestic markets from problems which are essentially unrelated to trade, have already led to export losses totaling US$13 billion for our region. The impacts again are worst on our most vulnerable, least developed, landlocked and small island states.
The time has come to take our future into our own hands – to rebalance and reset our economies through stronger regional integration, and move our societies towards more inclusive and sustainable development pathways so that there is shared prosperity, social equity, and dignity for all our people and respect for our planet.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Far-Reaching Resolutions to Tackle the Challenges
This Commission session has, therefore, done more than simply identifying serious challenges affecting our region.
Seizing the opportunity of this time of transition, the Commission has responded with a number of strong calls to action – given voice through the far-reaching and even game-changing resolutions that have been passed.
This is perhaps most evident in the resolution on enhancing regional economic integration in Asia and the Pacific – a capstone decision to explore new opportunities and frameworks for closer regional cooperation, to reshape our development paradigm, to address our shared challenges and to maximize our new opportunities.
It is also very apparent in the resolutions on enabling paperless trade and implementing the Ministerial Declaration on Transport Development – two key elements of our regional connectivity agenda.
By reducing the barriers to trade within our region, and creating the transport links necessary for trade to flow, we will create corridors of shared prosperity, linking our high-growth coastal economies with the markets and people of our landlocked and least developed member States.
Another historic resolution with the potential for far-reaching impact is on enhancing regional energy connectivity. A more integrated regional power system – effectively an Asian Energy Highway – could strengthen energy security, improve efficiency, and promote a greater share for renewable and clean energy, for a more sustainable future.
Sustainable development is a theme which resonated throughout our meeting of the Special Body on the Pacific Island Developing Countries, and I am very pleased to see a resolution recognizing the challenges and opportunities presented by the special case of our Pacific island states. We cannot have a world that supports institutions or regions which are “too big to fail” but which ignores those who are often seen as “too small to matter”.
In the context of the resolution on implementing the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), ESCAP will intensify our development support to Asia-Pacific LDCs and countries in transition.
With this in mind, I am pleased to announce that, as long-requested by the Government of Myanmar, and requested again yesterday in the country statement, ESCAP will be establishing a Regional Technical Support Office in Myanmar. This office will build capacity in support of small and medium sized enterprises, facilitate technology transfer, and share the best lessons from across the region in accelerating development, assisting Myanmar and other LDCs in the sub-region to more fully integrate with the ASEAN Economic Community, and graduating from the least developed category.
The 68th Commission session has also advanced our regional cooperation on social development – with resolutions on a new Asia-Pacific Decade for Persons with Disabilities and on regional preparations for the 20th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development.
I thank you and congratulate you on all of these decisions – which mandate ESCAP to intensify our efforts to build shared and sustainable regional prosperity.
Much as the leaders in 1947 saw their conference as a watershed in Asian history, it would be fair to say that the 68th Commission session has indeed strengthened the big push on the regional development agenda.
Together we will now transform these resolutions into bold action and profound results to bring about the much-needed transformation to more inclusive and sustainable Asia-Pacific prosperity.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to the Chairperson of the 68th Commission session, as well as to our Vice Chairs for their leadership and guidance.
I would especially like to express my deep gratitude and heartfelt thanks to the Prime Ministers of Thailand and Samoa, for spending so much time with us despite their very pressing schedules, and to Professor Tommy Koh for inspiring us with his keynote address.
I wish to also extend my deep appreciation to the Chairpersons, Vice Chairs and rapporteurs of the two Committees of the Whole and the Working Group on Draft Resolutions for all of their efforts.
I also want to thank all my staff for working well beyond the call of duty over the last few months. I would especially like to recognize the Secretary of the Commission and her team, our interpreters, our Conference Services staff, and all those who have worked so hard behind the scenes. Their tireless efforts have resulted in a Commission session which has been provocative, engaging, enlightening and inspirational.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you again for your very active participation and your very strong support. You have heard me say, on many occasions, that ESCAP is the most inclusive multilateral platform for the countries of Asia and the Pacific. This session has proven it to be something even more.
The member States of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific have converted the ESCAP intergovernmental platform into the most inclusive decision-making table for our region to respond to the great transition.
Asia and the Pacific has led the world’s economic recovery, and this week we have laid the foundation to lead its prosperity.
Let us harness the winds of change. Let us grasp the opportunities of our time, and chart a course through turbulence and volatility to the future we want – a resilient Asia-Pacific, rooted in shared prosperity, social equity and sustainability, empowered by the creativity of our people, valuing the gifts of the Earth.
Let us grow…better…together. Thank you.