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Bangkok - 26 Apr 2021

News Number: G/16/2021

Asia-Pacific leaders at annual UN policy forum call for greater regional cooperation to build back together from COVID-19 pandemic

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) opened its 77th session today in Bangkok with a strong call for strengthening multilateralism, international development coordination, and collaboration with subregional organizations to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals in Asia and the Pacific is at stake,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, who noted that the health crisis, together with measures to mitigate its impacts, have deeply affected countries of Asia and the Pacific, both economically and socially, over the past year.

However, “the ongoing roll-out of vaccines in the region offers hope for recovery,” she said. “Yet no country will be fully secure when others are still fighting the pandemic. We must ensure that the vaccines are affordable and accessible to all if we are to recover better together.”

Ms. Alisjahbana highlighted that ESCAP is taking steps to help its members build back stronger from the pandemic by advocating for strengthening social protection systems and enhancing sustainable financing, promoting digital trade, and investing in cleaner and greener solutions.

“As we approach our seventy-fifth anniversary of ESCAP next year, let us forge a common agenda to fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and to advance sustainable development through regional cooperation in Asia and the Pacific,” she said.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said while many ESCAP members were charting a course towards a strong recovery from the pandemic by committing to net zero emissions and green growth, millions of people across the Asia-Pacific region remained highly vulnerable and at risk.

“Together, let’s build a strong recovery from the pandemic, relaunch the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals, and create cleaner, greener, and more inclusive economies and societies that provide opportunities for all,” he said in a written statement.

The session is being held under the theme, ”Building back better from crises through regional cooperation in Asia and the Pacific.” The study prepared for the meeting finds that throughout the region, countries have suffered abrupt economic contractions, interruptions to trade, broken supply chains, and the complete collapse of international tourism – leading to widespread job losses and increases in poverty. The report finds that broadening social protection, investing in a sustained recovery, keeping goods and information flowing, and protecting environmental health will be key to emerging stronger from the pandemic.

In his address to the region’s leaders, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha of Thailand underlined the need for national and global cooperation to build resilience to meet future crises. “COVID-19 has brought home the realization that building back better requires immediate action and a whole-of-society approach that places people at the centre of our efforts in all aspects while ensuring no one is left behind,” he said. “I wish to reiterate Thailand’s readiness to support the work of ESCAP in bridging regional cooperation and forging partnerships as well as exchanges of experience and best practices, especially on locally-driven development approaches, among countries in the region.”

The President of the 75th United Nations General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, called on all leaders to follow the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, which offer a blueprint for a sustainable recovery from the pandemic. “Our collective action has the potential to lay the foundation for long-term cooperation and for a future that offers more opportunity, more equality, more security and more prosperity,” he said. “By working together, we can turn what has been a global setback into a springboard to a better future.”

In his remarks, the 76th President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, Munir Akram, highlighted the need to focus on inclusive, sustainable and resilient recovery. “The pandemic has laid bare the inherent inequalities and vulnerabilities of our global system,” he said. “It is only by addressing these issues that we can build back better and enable developing countries to unshackle the potential of their people, the majority of which is living in the ESCAP region.”

Mukhtar Tleuberdi, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, was elected Chair of the session. In his address, he added that recovering from the crisis will require innovative solutions and urgent collective efforts that no country can do alone. “To achieve greater results in such a diverse and complex region we must strengthen our collaboration both at regional and subregional levels. Only through joint efforts can our countries turn our region into a zone of peace, cooperation and development.”

Seventeen Heads of State and Government spoke today during the ministerial segment. In all, 52 of the Commission’s 62 members and associate members are expected to attend the session this week.

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