Senior United Nations officials today demanded a greater global response to the plight of poor countries and people suffering from a financial and economic crisis that was not of their making.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) inaugural public symposium on “The global economic crisis and development – the way forward” opened its two-day gathering in Geneva among calls for reforms to prevent a future recurrence of the crisis.
In his opening remarks to the meeting, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang said that his department, known as DESA, and UNCTAD had warned of the risks posed by the increasingly unsustainable imbalances in the global economy.
“We expected a crisis,” said Mr. Sha, pointing to UNCTAD’s “Trade and Development Report” and DESA’s “World Economic Situation and Prospects,” while adding that “no one anticipated the severity of the economic crisis that engulfs the world today.”
The global financial crisis has resulted in developing countries facing falling per capita income, rising unemployment and severe balance-of-payment deficits, on top of a pre-existing food crisis, he warned.
He told participants that forecasts predicting a mild recovery for 2010 are optimistic and dependent on the major economies’ fiscal stimulus packages gaining traction, the global credit crunch easing significantly and commodity prices stabilizing.
“From the UN’s perspective, with our focus especially on developing countries and the global development agenda, this leads to a need for policy measures in two key areas,” said Mr. Sha.
The Under-Secretary-General said a greater “fiscal stimulus and closer international coordination of the stimulus packages are needed” to help poorer countries survive the current economic turmoil.
He also underscored the need for a “Global New Deal” focusing on environmentally sustainable growth, job security and social protection to avoid unfair trading practices and to provide more long-term development lending.
Calling on donors to accelerate their overseas aid commitment, Mr. Sha also stressed that deep reform of the international financial system was necessary, including “systemic revisions of financial regulation, tax cooperation, international debt restructuring mechanisms and a new global reserve system.”
UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi repeated earlier calls for an “exit strategy” from the crisis for the world as a whole. “If things start moving in the Western economies, the rest of the world will not be cured.”
Mr. Supachai warned that it would be a mistake to “go back to the same old cycle of boom and bust. We cannot make cosmetic changes. We need to think about real reforms.”
Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Office (ILO), said his agency is pressing for a “global jobs pact” to halt the climbing unemployment figures and to work in concert with economic stimulus packages.
Jobs are where ordinary people interact with the global economy, he said, noting that unemployment worldwide grew by 14 million in 2008 and by now has probably grown by 50 million.