4 October 2021, Friday, Geneva, Switzerland – Foreign Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. called on the 15th U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 15) to “transform multilateralism” and build “a world economy that fosters the well-being, inclusion, and empowerment of the marginalized and vulnerable.”

Speaking through a pre-recorded message broadcast to the UNCTAD meeting in Geneva and in host country Barbados, Secretary Locsin called for a “new democratic multilateralism” that includes “inclusive transformations and resilient structures” in the areas of the digital economy, the creative economy, universal health coverage, migration and remittances, and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

He also advocated for the interests of middle-income countries “where 75% of the world’s population and 62% of the world’s poor live.”

The quinquennial conference is being held in the context of a world economy reeling from the pandemic, which has affected developing countries the hardest.

This virus has brough an ugly light to the long-ignored vulnerabilities of developing countries and to existing gaps in the multilateral development processes,” Secretary Locsin said. “These vulnerabilities proceed from fundamental inequities.”

The UNCTAD Secretariat projects that developing countries will be USD 12 trillion poorer because of the pandemic by 2050, “owing to their lack of policy independence and vaccines.”

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley of UNCTAD 15 host country Barbados, among other leaders, have raised concerns about persistent vaccine inequity between developed and developing countries.

The UNCTAD Secretariat has also published a report last month projecting that developing countries will be USD 12 trillion poorer because of the pandemic by 2050 unless the world shifts “decisively away from four decades driven by a misplaced faith in unregulated markets.”

The said report, published on 15 September, calls for “breathing new life into multilateral cooperation” through “policy transformations,” including enhancing the policy space of developing countries.

Later this week, UNCTAD 15, the first ministerial-level development meeting since the outbreak of the pandemic, is expected to adopt the Bridgetown Covenant, a policy document that will guide the work of UNCTAD for the next five years.

This document is currently in the final stages of negotiation among the Group of Seventy-Seven (G77) and China, the European Union, the Eurasian Economic Union, and the JUSCANZ Group (composed of Japan, the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Republic of Korea).

The G77, a grouping of 134 developing countries, designated the Philippines’ UNCTAD delegate in Geneva as focal negotiator on the document’s section on “Transforming Multilateralism.”

Our call for transformation proceeds from a recognition of persistent inequity in global governance,” Secretary Locsin told the UNCTAD ministers at today’s meeting. “We need a new outlook that does not shy from a factual diagnosis of the state of affairs; but that does not require throwing away foundational values that underpin every good we seek to attain, like individual freedom, dignity, and safety.”

In this bold reinvention of multilateralism, UNCTAD must reclaim its centrality,” the Foreign Secretary said. “Just as UNCTAD’s consensus-building and decision-making pillars informed and enhanced the material and moral evolution of the current global regime, so it must now find its way back to the core of meaningful deliberation and action in the global economy.”

Established in 1964, UNCTAD is considered the widest and most inclusive multilateral forum for trade and development. Its three pillars of policy analysis, technical cooperation, and consensus-building are intended to promote the interests of developing countries and to bridge the gap between poor and rich states.

Many of the principles of global trade and development, including the special and differentiated treatment (SDT) for developing countries in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and generalized scheme of preferences (GSP), originated in UNCTAD discussions.

The Philippines hosted the 5th UNCTAD in Manila in 1979. END