Guterres hails 60 years of UN trade and development action


Economic Development

The right to development is inextricably linked with trade which the world’s poorest countries – now “mired in debt” through no fault of their own – have every right to pursue on much fairer terms, UN chief António Guterres insisted on Wednesday.

In a speech marking 60 years of UN Trade and Development – the agency previously known by the acronym UNCTAD – the UN Secretary-General highlighted the multiple challenges standing in the way of a more sustainable and inclusive global economy for all.

“New and protracted conflicts are having a ripple effect across the global economy. Global debt has soared while key development indicators, including poverty and hunger, have regressed,” Mr. Guterres told the UN Trade and Development Global Leaders Forum.

Global system’s flaws exposed

On a flying visit to Switzerland, Mr. Guterres reprised previous warnings that the world’s international financial architecture “has been exposed as outdated, dysfunctional, and unjust”. 

It has “failed to provide a safety net for developing countries mired in debt”, the UN chief insisted, as he issued the worrying assessment that the international trading system faces pressure “on all sides”, to the extent that it is now “teetering on the verge of fragmentation”. 

Taking sides

Against this deeply concerning backdrop, and amid escalating geopolitical tensions, rising inequality and soaring debt, Mr. Guterres insisted that the role of the Geneva-based agency UN Trade and Development was “more relevant than ever” in working for a more sustainable and inclusive global economy, through trade and investment.

The UN agency cannot be neutral on development problems – “just as the World Health Organization could not be neutral on malaria”, the UN chief said, referencing the famous words of Raul Prebisch, UNCTAD’s first Secretary-General. 

 “Trade has become a double-edged sword: a source of both prosperity and inequality; interconnection and dependence; economic innovation and environmental degradation,” Mr. Guterres said, as he urged greater dialogue between nations in the face of a near-tripling of trade barriers since 2019, “many driven by geopolitical rivalry, with no concern for their impact on developing countries”.

He added: “The world cannot afford splits into rival blocs. To implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and to ensure peace and security – we need one global market and one global economy, in which there is no place for poverty and hunger.”