GENEVA, Switzerland — UNCTAD’s 15th quadrennial ministerial conference (UNCTAD15) to be held in Bridgetown, Barbados from 25 to 30 April 2021 will present the world with the first opportunity to align the sustainable development agenda with global efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The prime minister of Barbados Mia Amor Mottley and UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi signed an agreement for the hosting of UNCTAD15, officially setting off preparations for the landmark gathering of the organization’s 195 member States.
“The COVID-19 global emergency and its extreme repercussions have exposed the need for a fundamental rethinking of many of the assumptions that previously underpinned the international economic order,” prime minister Mottley said during the signing ceremony held virtually.
“In a sudden and unexpected way, the crisis has provided the UNCTAD membership with a unique opportunity to be at the forefront of the new thinking and radical policy corrections that the situation now requires,” she added.
Dr Kituyi said: “In a world overhung with the COVID-19 pandemic, UNCTAD15 is a first opportunity for the development community to give us a mandate aligning Agenda 2030 with the global new normal.”
The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere, inline.
Major event of the ‘decade of action’
UNCTAD15 will be a major global event of the UN’s “decade for action” to deliver on the SDGs. It will mobilize governments, civil society organizations, businesses and the youth to address the massive unmet trade, finance, investment and technology needs of developing countries struggling to tackle the coronavirus crisis.
According to UNCTAD’s estimates, developing countries need $2.5 trillion in immediate resources to begin meeting the challenge of the pandemic. This is beyond the outstanding SDG funding gap of billions.
For example, even before the pandemic, least developed countries (LDCs) alone needed annual investments of $120 billion to achieve the SDG targets.
From inequality and vulnerability to prosperity for all
UNCTAD15 will be held under the theme “From inequality and vulnerability to prosperity for all”, offering the nations of the world a platform to devise new ways to use trade as an enabler of sustainable development.
With economies all over the world ravaged by COVID-19, countries will explore how to build back better and strengthen their resilience. They will discuss the strategies and policies needed to resist shocks and quickly recover from crises – economic, financial, climate and social.
The pandemic has hit the most vulnerable countries and people hardest. Over 70 million additional people living in LDCs will be pushed into extreme poverty this year, increasing the global poverty headcount ratio for the first time in two decades, according to UN estimates.
COVID-19’s economic impact is particularly acute in small island developing states (SIDS) such as Barbados, the UNCTAD15 host country, where the services industry, especially travel, tourism and hospitality, have borne the brunt of the pandemic.
These sectors are the lifeline of SIDS and the main sources of employment for women and small businesses, all of whom are severely affected by the pandemic’s economic fallout.
At UNCTAD15, countries will discuss how to get these vulnerable economies quickly back on their feet and trigger the investment needed to enhance their resilience to shocks, including climate change, which exacts a disproportionately heavy toll on SIDS.
Urgent need for new approaches to trade and development
Dr Kituyi said COVID-19 has starkly revealed that the world must transform global approaches to trade and development to chart a sustainable course to a better recovery.
“We need to rebuild entirely from the ground up, because for too many, going back to business as usual is anathema to sustaining prosperity,” Dr Kituyi said.
As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the developing world, the global economy enters a synchronized recession unseen since the Second World War.
To cope with the spiralling economic fallout, developing countries need the galvanized attention of the international community. UNCTAD15 will offer the focused attention needed to mobilize political will towards the systemic changes needed for a better recovery.
“From a trade and development perspective, a better recovery must be green, resilient, just and digital – but it must also be for all people and all countries, not just those who can afford it,” Dr Kituyi said.
UNCTAD15 will build on the success of previous conferences that have generated ambitious solutions and policy responses to development challenges globally.
The quadrennial conference is the highest decision-making body of UNCTAD. It sets the organization’s work priorities for the next four years.