Points developed by Mr. Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD in his
statement at the Opening Session*
Geneva, 15 July 2002—World Civil Society Forum
*On this occasion, Mr. Ricupero also drew from his statement
at the High-level Policy Dialogue of the United Nations Economic
and Social Council, New York, 1 July 2002 (copy attached).
See also: Audio
Throughout history, civilizations have grown and flourished through
dialogue, exchange and new inspiration. The early 20th century
witnessed the emergence of civil society as one of the most relevant forces of
change. The League of Nations and especially the International Labour
Organization were founded on the basis of large movements of civil societies.
Concepts such as transparency and good governance, environmental management,
human rights and social values could not have been successfully transferred
from the domestic to the international sphere without the crucial impetus
provided by groups of citizens around the world.
The sheer number and variety of walks of life represented here today are
proof of your commitment to working closely with the United Nations and
Governments to make the world a better place. This gathering should enable us
to take a closer look at how we can continue to do so. Now more than ever, we
believe that such an open dialogue among development actors will foster
understanding and consensus, especially in the face of growing challenges to
efforts to alleviate suffering and protect the fundamental economic, social and
human rights of future generations.
The variety of topics to be covered by this Forum demonstrates that
there is probably no area of international policy that can still be
considered a monopoly of government. The groups representing civil society
are increasingly well organized and have become the main non-economic
transnational force. They are “globalized” in the sense that the
values they share are not circumscribed by national borders; and they also
contribute to the dissemination of ideas, cultures and perspectives on
international issues. International public opinion of the 21st
century, as expressed by civil society, is an explosion of diversity.
Your views will help us learn how the United Nations family can make its
message more effective on a range of vital issues, from human rights to the
environment, from trade and development to disarmament. During the latest cycle
of world conferences, you have succeeded in shedding light and setting the pace
for many issues, acting as pressure groups and working with Governments.
Non-governmental groups are clearly having an impact on shaping the
international agenda, as we can see from your work on such issues as
environmental protection, poverty reduction, debt relief, market access and
I believe there is a new urgency in implementing the Millennium
Declaration as the single, overarching policy framework to guide the
efforts of the United Nations system in support of global development. If we
are to achieve its goals, we must move ahead as partners. Our partnership
must include Governments, which have the primary responsibility for the
well-being of their population, the private sector, which produces most
of the wealth in the world, NGOs and the United Nations system itself.
The international trade agenda contains an increasing number of topics that
are generated and fuelled by civil society concerns. Some of them, such as
trade and traditional knowledge, are quite new. Others, such as consumer
protection and environmental concerns, have already taken on a life of their
own and may well find their way into international rules in years to come.
And as the trade agenda evolves, there is a growing role for
non-governmental actors in national and international decisions on trade
policies that give rise to new issues and, in turn, to a wealth of
opportunities for shaping the international trade system – particularly
from the viewpoint of developing countries.
Among the most immediate challenges ahead, civil society will have to play a
major role in the follow-up to recent world conferences, including the Third
United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (Brussels, May
2001), the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference (Doha, November 2001) and the
International Conference on Financing for Development (Monterrey, this past
March). These three events pointed towards a shift in thinking on international
economic relations in two very important respects: first, they emphasized the
need to bring the development dimension back into the discussion on managing
international trade, finance and investment, so as to help developing countries
realize their full potential in a globalizing world, and second, they
recognized the need for Governments and policy makers in developing countries
to take greater responsibility for their own economic actions and destinies.
Next month’s World Summit on Sustainable Development will represent yet
another opportunity for further innovations in our thinking on development.
Raúl Prebisch, UNCTAD’s founding father, always insisted that
the ultimate responsibility for the development of developing countries lay
with developing countries themselves. Again and again he stressed that it was
the central responsibility of each Government and people to rely on itself,
while at the same time acknowledging the need for assistance from the
The initiative to hold this World Civil Society Forum is completely in line
with that statement. Civil society is essential in building the capacity needed
to help countries better manage their integration into the global economy and
facilitate their efforts to create wealth and meet social challenges.
From UNCTAD's point of view, two key questions will occupy our thoughts and
endeavours in the run-up to UNCTAD XI, which is to be held in 2004, in Brazil,
my own country: First, what kind of international arrangements will be needed
to give developing countries the policy space and the concrete opportunities,
the trade opportunities, to address the basic issues of poverty alleviation and
closing the income gap? And second, what kind of domestic policy and
institutions will be needed to generate the capacity to meet these challenges?
In addressing these two key questions, UNCTAD will need to forge and further
strengthen its partnership with all development actors, including civil
society, and to allow its critical voice to be heard.
Attachment to the points developed by Mr. Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General
of UNCTAD in his statement at the Opening Session of the World Civil Society
High-level Policy Dialogue of the Economic and Social Council
Statement by Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
New York, 1 July 2002
Ladies and gentlemen:
The fantastic image of people demolishing the Berlin Wall with their bare
hands or makeshift tools was to become the visual symbol of the exhilarating
promises of the 90's. It was an era to abolish all barriers – barriers
dividing people, by ending apartheid and the ideological confrontation of the
Cold War, and barriers dividing economies, through globalization and
liberalization. But 12 years later, the barriers are returning, with statesmen
discussing how to erect legal and political walls against economic refugees and
poor immigrants. Governments planning fences against suicide terrorists and
rich countries raising new barriers to steel, agricultural and other sensitive
Of course, not all walls are alike. They can form a prison or a cage, as in
Berlin, or they can provide necessary defence or protection. But whether
justified or not, they are almost always an admission of failure to find
lasting solutions to the problems at hand.
One of the most insidious types of walls are the barriers we build inside
our minds against unpleasant realities and immovable problems. Some of us in
Monterrey last March tried to draw the world’s attention to the despair
and suffering of the millions of innocent Argentineans who are being punished
by the misdeeds of their Governments. Many of us urged prompt action to avoid
the contagion. But now, more than three months later, the disease has spread,
to Uruguay; Paraguay; my own country, Brazil; and other Latin American
countries. In Argentina, the sense of hopelessness and abandon is fast evolving
into dark and chaotic agony. I know there are no simplistic, miraculous cures,
and I am not playing the blame game. But in the face of such manmade
catastrophes, our first and most urgent action should be to relieve the
suffering and contain the damage.
Even after several episodes of painful crises in emerging markets, the
international community still lacks a realistic strategy for dealing with
financial instability and the debt problem. Just “muddling through”
cost Latin America a lost decade in the 1980s; and a similar lack of orderly
procedures for handling international debt has now been exposed in Argentina.
Uncertainty continues to surround the modalities of official intervention in
the financial crises, adding to volatility in market sentiment. Current
arrangements appear to encourage pro-cyclical policy responses, which risks
only deepening the crises. It is time to end such ad hoc approaches and
to get on with a genuine reform of the international financial architecture.
Only multilateral action under IMF leadership can effectively deal with the
debt problem; only cooperation among the major economic powers can deliver the
degree of currency stability needed by developing countries to ensure that
trade and financial flows complement their domestic efforts.
Trade has always been one of the channels for transmitting recessions in the
industrial countries to the developing countries. We saw a recurrence of this
phenomenon just last year, when the United States economic slowdown was the
central reason for the sharpest contraction in trade performance worldwide
since 1982. The loss in value was three times higher than the reduction in
volume, hitting the commodity-exporting developing countries particularly hard.
More than ever, the international community as a whole, and not least the
developing countries, needs a strong multilateral trading system and the
successful delivery of the Doha promises to inject as much growth and
development potential as possible into the negotiations. This is why we were
dismayed by recent threats to those promises arising from a disturbing sequence
of protectionist measures. I once wrote in a book edited by Professor Jagdish
Bhagwati in honour of Arthur Dunkel that, after the Uruguay Round, we were
living in a paradoxical situation. Developing countries had finally persuaded
themselves that they should be among the staunchest defenders of
multilateralism, because they needed it more than the others. But the same
reason why they needed the system – their vulnerability and lack of power
– was also why they could do little to save it on their own. This is as
true today as it was then. We must all resist protectionism everywhere, but it
is only the major trading powers, which account for the largest share of world
trade, that can really make a difference, by exercising responsible leadership.
Among the main victims of the shortcomings of the trading system are the
commodity-dependent LDCs. These are the nations caught in a poverty trap in
which pervasive poverty ends up perpetuating itself. UNCTAD’s recent
LDC Report 2002, the first comprehensive analysis of poverty in the
least developed countries, has shown that the proportion of the population
living on less than a dollar a day has been underestimated in the poorest
countries, particularly in Africa, and that the number of people living in
extreme poverty has actually doubled in the past 30 years. But the report also
demonstrates that there is a golden opportunity to radically change the
situation because at very low levels of income per capital, a doubling of
average household incomes can rapidly slash $1-a-day poverty rates. The way
forward is with national policies that are development-oriented and
outward-looking, in that they seek to manage integration with the world economy
through trade and investment. But to be successful, these policies need to be
complemented by increased debt relief; more, and more effective, aid; a renewal
and recasting of international commodity policy; and greater South-South
In each of these three challenges – financial crises in Argentina and
Latin America, the negotiation of a more development-friendly trading system,
and achieving the Millennium Development Goal of slashing extreme poverty in
the poorest countries – we need the decisive and responsible leadership
of those who have the power to create a tolerant, pluralistic and generous
multilateral agenda. It is much better to take this road than to put up more
walls and fences, however strong and invulnerable they may look for, as Gildor
the elf tells Frodo in The Lord of the Rings: "The wide world is all
about you: You can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out".
Thank you, Mr. President.