As the world grapples with the coronavirus crisis, UNCTAD’s annual report for 2019, published on 24 April, shines a light on what is possible when countries, organisations and people work together to promote prosperity for all.
“COVID-19 threatens to send more countries deeper into crisis. As we tackle this huge challenge, our report shines a light on what is possible when we look beyond uncertainty and work together for the benefit of all,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi.
As the world marks the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace on 24 April, the report shows how UNCTAD works with its 195 member States and various organizations to harness trade for development gains, bearing testament to the power of multilateralism.
It demonstrates the organization’s work in supporting developing countries to step up efforts to tackle poverty and extend the ladder of opportunity to the millions who remain far behind economically.
The coronavirus pandemic exposes the inequality that holds back progress globally.
“Our quest for inclusive prosperity was curtailed by rising inequality and ever louder voices of protectionism, which dominate the national and international discourse,” Dr Kituyi said.
The report shows how UNCTAD is working to ensure growing inequality does not erode hard-won development gains. It illustrates how the organization is helping reimagine an international order that will ensure vulnerable nations achieve their development aspirations.
It also highlights UNCTAD’s quest for a big investment push led by the public sector to bring about a more equal distribution of income and reverse decades of environmental degradation.
Trade is part of the climate solution
While the coronavirus pandemic may be a short-term boon for the climate, as lockdowns see significant reductions in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, the climate crisis remains unresolved.
In 2019, the nexus between trade and the environment was centre stage at UNCTAD and high on the United Nations agenda, as the world grappled with how trade can be part of the solution to the relentless climate crisis.
It shows how the organization stepped up its crucial efforts helping countries to attract investment in the Sustainable Development Goals while advising governments on the implications of a changing climate on trade and development.
UNCTAD also worked with countries to design policies to enhance their productive capacities and with enterprises to step up their contributions to meeting the global goals.
Digitalization and development
Digital technologies have proven crucial for coping with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, as economic and social activities have shifted online in response to it.
However, the vast digital divide has also been exposed. With only half of the world’s 7.7 billion people online, there are significant development dimensions that need to be considered.
Amid a surge in global online commerce, the report demonstrates how UNCTAD is helping poorer countries build the policy environment, infrastructure and skills they need to adapt to the digital economy.
With rapid technological change taking place at breakneck speed, the report also shows how UNCTAD is helping spread the benefits of science and technology for sustainable development.
Delivering on the African promise
Africa is in the path of a fast-approaching coronavirus storm with indications pointing to the pandemic’s potential to cause devastation on the continent.
As Africa ramps up its response to the crisis, the report shows how UNCTAD stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the continent by supporting initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area, which promises to create the world’s largest free trade area, and could be a lifesaving tool for keeping critical good and fresh produce moving.
The African Union also has a unique coordinating role to play to support African nations’ response to the pandemic.
“As COVID-19 spreads, African nations are forced to address immediate health and livelihood challenges. They must ride out the emergency together and prepare for uncertain times as we confront a fundamentally changed economic landscape,” Dr Kituyi added.