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#UNCTAD14 should address the needs, priorities of developing countries

Holy See

Dear friends, as you may remember, four years ago, at Doha, UNCTAD’s mandate was renewed with a strong focus on building an inclusive economy.

Against the background of the SDGs, the fourteenth Ministerial Conference of UNCTAD this year on its part, is held under the theme: “Promoting a global environment for prosperity for all. Through a discussion of debt relief and debt re-structuring processes, responsible lending and borrowing, trade issues, curbing tax avoidance and corruption, UNCTAD XIV

Additionally, the debt relief initiatives in the last fifteen years have provided $115 billion that have been spent on healthcare, and education in poor countries. As a result, 50 million children go to school. This should recommend UNCTAD’s support for responsible lending and borrowing, trade issues, curbing tax avoidance and corruption.

UNCTAD XIV seeks to represent “a chance to breathe new life into multilateral cooperation to shape prosperity for all and reignite the engines of sustainable development.” And, because a sustainable development is unthinkable without an inclusive prosperity, “prosperity for all”.

Pope Francis sees in the SDGs a hopeful sign of inclusive prosperity and development. In his address to the United Nation General Assembly (25 Sept. 2015), Pope Francis stated that the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development “is an important sign of hope.

Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, although they are certainly a necessary step toward solutions. Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion.”

UNCTAD XIV is also important because it is the first UN Ministerial conference of the post-2015 era, and it represents a starting point “for translating our ambitions into concrete plans of action”, as the Secretary General of the UN said in his opening statement. Thus, it marks a critical moment for development and for our common home.

UNCTAD and the DEVELOPMENT AGENDA (an Inclusive Prosperity):

With the creation of UNCTAD 50 years ago, the United Nations embraced for the first time an inclusive and forward-thinking trade and development agenda, initiated by the developing world, on behalf of the developing world, with a vision of prosperity for all.

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Since then, this promise has begun to bear fruit. An increasing number of developing and transition economies have managed to integrate into the world economy. This has resulted in an unprecedented expansion in international trade. This is a tremendous progress!

We recognize, then, that over the years the world has witnessed a decline in global extreme poverty and positive development in certain areas. Admittedly,  these have not been equally shared. The benefits of globalization combined with a general improvement of macroeconomic management have helped the integration of many developing countries into the global economy. But, we still have a long way to go in reaching the degree of development that would reflect the vision of prosperity for all

During the last fifteen years, globalisation has shown several limits and become somewhat victim of its own success. In fact, while allowing for a general improvement of living conditions it has created a large number of losers alongside winners.

This is reflected in the widening gap of inequality, particularly within emerging and advanced economies. In some advanced economies, the middle class is under stress and reducing in size, while in developing economies, the poor are pushed further down the scale of growth and development. At the World Economic Forum last year and this year, OXFAM presented reports of an increasing concentration of the world’s wealth in an increasingly smaller percentage of the world’s population.

The growth of inequality and poverty undermines inclusive and participatory democracy which always presupposes an economy and a market which are equitable and non-exclusive.

The deterioration of the condition of many people living in poverty is also attributable, in part, to such other factors as: environmental degradation, violent conflicts, forced displacement, rapid fluctuations in the prices paid to farmers and commodities, resource depletion, natural disasters, and political and economic crises.

Such “an economy of exclusion and inequality”,  is not rooted only in the natural selfishness of human beings. It also belies the belief in the automatic ability of a free trade and a free market, unbridled by regulations, to generate increased efficiency and aggregate growth.

Similarly, international political and economic agenda are sometimes applied in a ‘one size fits all’ approach which require low-income countries to set “rigid national policy agendas” that followed international benchmarks, so that they may qualify for international aid.

The consideration of the peculiarities of local conditions is judged irrelevant. But, in fact, the complexities of the development process” in local situations may not be glossed over or ignored.

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Rather, developmental issues require attention on multiple governance levels: local/national, bilateral/regional/multilateral and global. Multilateral efforts are generally important for development. To the extent that they make room for regionalism, they present a more effective approach to manage globalization.

In the 60s many African nations gained their independence; and with it, the struggle for growth and development as sovereign nations. The Catholic Church accompanied that process with her reflection on development or progress in the Encyclical Letter of Pope Paul VI, entitled, The Progress of Peoples (Populorum Progressio). There, Pope Paul VI stated that the new name of peace is development. But he also quickly added that development, on its part, requires peace!

Hence, more than finances and the availability of resources, the most critical factor that determines development and growth everywhere, even here in Africa, is the presence or the lack of peace! The Addis Ababa summit (July 2015) to seek public and private funds to finance the SDGs was necessary; but without peace in an area/place, it will achieve no SDG; and this is the power of regionalism!

Again, while different solution are needed to address developing countries’ needs, some challenges are of a global nature and require a common effort by all countries. The clearest instance is the environmental challenge. It is clear that we have stretched our natural resource systems to their limits and dangerously altered the sustainability of several ecosystems. In several areas, we have reached a point of no return where the ecological equilibrium has been irreversibly compromised.

We must not forget that “the book of nature is one and indivisible”, and that “the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence”.

The environmental emergency is intimately linked with the economic one. In fact, as Pope Francis stresses, “the human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet”.


This Conference should aim at a high level of ambition and should focus on how the international community will ensure that UNCTAD plays its full and meaningful role in supporting the new global development agenda, with a particular attention to the needs of poor countries and of the poor people.

UNCTAD XIV should address the contemporary needs and priorities of developing countries in the current volatile and unbalanced global environment. In fact, we should reaffirm that an essential ingredient for an enabling international environment for development is a healthy and positive approach to the issue of global good governance.

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It is essential to rebalance the good governance debate and squarely address global good governance, based on democratically agreed rules and regulations, a transparent system of checks and balances and inclusive stakeholder representation, to ensure equitable and sustainable outcomes for all in the long run. This is especially important in addressing challenges which require collective international action. It is only in a global economic order that places the human person in the centre and follows basic principles of good governance that developing economies will be empowered to use their policy space to further apply good governance principles to the management of their national economies.

 By Cardinal Peter Kodwo Turkson,

President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Vatican City

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