(Geneva, 9 January 2009)

It is with a sense of pride and at the same time confidence that I turn over the Chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China to my successor. I am proud of what we as a group have accomplished over the past year. I am confident that we will achieve even more in the coming year.

Let us be clear on one thing: 2009 will be even more challenging than 2008 – something we did not expect at the last handover ceremony. A year ago, we were focused on preparations for UNCTAD XII, and most of us expected that in the immediate post UNCTAD XII period, we would focus on implementation of the agreements reached at Accra.

That task is now complemented by the need to address the global financial crisis and its implications for the trade and development prospects of developing countries.

In a way this brings us back to our roots. Let us remember that in the glory days of UNCTAD and the height of the Group of 77 in Geneva, the focus of the quadrennial conference was not a single outcome document but addressing a plethora of trade and development issues on their own merit, and in the broader context of the global development discourse. Indeed, in some ways, the global development discourse was driven by our Group in Geneva and by developments in this city.

We have shown, dear friends, that while the world may have changed, and while dynamics in the broader discourse on development may have shifted, there is still a special place and a special role for Geneva and our chapter of the Group of 77 and China. It is factually true that over the course of the past year, we helped to define the direction of the broader debate on global development issues and influenced major global processes through our work, including the recently held Finance for Development (FfD) review conference. We did this not primarily through the tedious process of negotiations but through articulating clearly our aspirations and ideas, and by working closely with other stakeholders and institutions working on development issues.

Through our platform at UNCTAD, we encapsulated in the Accra Accord our aspirations of a fairer globalization, and made clear our vision for a fairer, more responsive, international economic architecture. We continue to pursue this vision and these objectives as we work on the implementation of the Accra Accord, and as we work towards the future work of the organization.

It is therefore with confidence that I can say that I am optimistic for the future of UNCTAD and the Group of 77 in Geneva, but it is confidence rooted in the hard realization that it will be a difficult process.

The road to the future has literally taken years to construct. As a group we have accomplished much on the road towards Accra. Now we face an even more difficult task to realise the promises of Accra which involves fundamental changes to the world economy and overcoming the reluctance of our development partners.

Yet if we as a group and UNCTAD as an intergovernmental body are to remain relevant, we must play our part in the various processes which are underway to address the global economic crisis and the strengthening of the global economic system. One process centers on the preparations for the global conference on the global economic crisis and its impact on development, which will take place later this year. Related to this is the G-20 process as well as the initiative of the President of the UN General Assembly to look into the necessary reform of the international economic system.

Here in Geneva, through the leadership of the President of the Trade and Development Board, we have had a very successful Executive Session of the Board to contribute to the FfD preparations. But we have to go beyond that. We have to have our own process to feed into the historic efforts under way, and which have yet to be embarked upon.

Part of the task has been made easier by recent developments in New York, and the recently concluded negotiations on strengthening the UN’s development pillar. Part of the credit for the successful negotiations and the strong and tangible gains for UNCTAD were the Group’s dedication and hard work, which is reflective of the special role and importance we have for this institution. I am therefore confident that UNCTAD will be better positioned to assist us in our important work ahead.

As I end my term, I would like to conclude these brief remarks with some reflections and some thoughts arising from my experience over the past year.

First, we must bring greater political focus and direction to our activities, and to the broader work of UNCTAD. This means a greater role and deeper engagement by Ambassadors. Our experts have done an excellent job. But it is clear that our development partners must be brought to a greater level of engagement, and this means that the ambassadors of all groups must be active in our work here.

Second, and related to this, we must as a group fully exploit the UNCTAD secretariat as well as reach out to other institutions and stakeholders in development as part of our broader effort of strengthening the substantive capacity of the group. Over the course of the year we once again proved that our strength lies not just in our numbers, but in the quality of our negotiators. We must not rest on our laurels but must continuously adapt and improve. With unity, we can overcome any distractions

Hence, we must continue to strengthen the Group at the conceptual level. Our success at Accra was partly the result of the dedication of our experts in putting to paper a clear and unambiguous platform which helped to galvanize the group during negotiations. It is true that the process of putting together that platform was difficult, yet I believe that the process only made us stronger. That platform must be a living document, and it should be continuously updated so that it can serve as a guide for the difficult tasks which lie ahead. Yet, dear colleagues, whatever flight of fancy we may indulge in, we must not forget the pivotal importance of commodities on which the future of most of mankind is mortgaged. That is, we are the majority of humanity who demand better returns for our wares and greater voice in constructing a “new financial architecture” and fairer economy.

Third, we must help to foster greater institutional coherence and coordination within the broader Group of 77 and China. Therefore, within our mandate and expertise, we should work more closely with other chapters, especially the New York chapter, to ensure that our full collective wisdom and experience is brought to bear as we embark on the important tasks which lie ahead.

In closing, I would like to thank you all for your hard work and support. Ours was a team effort, and without the hard work and dedication of all of our colleagues, including my own team and in particular Mr. Garikai Kashitiku, we would not be handing over a strong and focused group to the next chairman of the Group of 77 and China.

I would also like to extend our deepest appreciation to Dr. Supachai and the UNCTAD staff for their dedicated support over the course of the past year. We have steadily forged increasingly closer ties with UNCTAD and I believe that in many respects we have restored much of the special relationship between UNCTAD and the Group of 77 and China in Geneva. Dr. Supachai deserves much of the credit for his commitment to the cause of development, and for manifesting this in the various efforts which he has undertaken to strengthen the support that the secretariat has extended to us.

Once again, I wish to single out for thanks Dr. Supachai himself, Madame Puri, and the dedicated staff of the Group Liaison Unit – especially Mesdames Patricia Almeida, Zoraa Amijee, and Rima Kebbe and the former Group Liaison Officer, Mr Edward Chisanga, for their unwavering assistance to the group. Allow me also to thank their new chief, Mr. Miguel Bautista, who went from Minister at the Philippines Permanent Mission at Geneva to ministering to the needs of the Group. He and his team along with the rest of the UNCTAD secretariat have maintained the highest standards of the international civil service by maintaining their impartiality, while never wavering from their commitment to development. Indeed, as Raul Prebisch himself pointed out “in addressing poverty and the needs of development, the secretariat must remain impartial, but cannot be neutral in the face of the needs of the poor”.

Let me also take this opportunity to thank South Centre and Third World Network who have always stood ready to assist the group with their intellect. Special mentioning goes to Mr Yash Tandon and Mr Martin Khor. I hope the same assistance will be rendered to my successor. In absentia, we pay special tribute to the G-77 and China’s Chief negotiator in the UNCTAD XII process, His Excellency Ambassador Clodoaldo Hugueney, formerly of the Permanent Mission of Brazil. He excelled at his task and we all owe him a great debt of gratitude.

Thank you.

I would now like to give the floor to Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary General of UNCTAD.

© The Group of 77