(Geneva, 29 September 2020)

President of the Trade and Development Board Ambassador Federico Villegas,
Secretary-General of UNCTAD Mukhisa Kituyi,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

1. I have the honour to deliver this statement on behalf of the Group of 77 and China.

2. At the outset, the Group would like to express its satisfaction with the tangible steps taken towards UNCTAD 15, including the expected approval of the provisional agenda later this afternoon. It is remarkable that the theme of the conference, which represents the core of the provisional agenda that we will approve, resounds so meaningfully today. This is despite the fact that we approved the theme before the wave of the pandemic struck us. We believe that this reflects that we collectively have the wisdom and foresight to engage meaningfully and proactively for mutual benefit, notwithstanding the many challenges that we face today. This is a historical reality embedded in the principles of UNCTAD.

Mr. President,

3. In 1964 the international community came together in Geneva for UNCTAD I with the aspiration of accelerating progress towards a better and fairer world. The wave of decolonization had given rise to many new countries with rightful expectations of development and self-determination. They faced a world of rapid change, of confrontation, and looming existential threats. While much has changed since then, it is evident that some things have not.

4. Many developing countries continue to face many of the same development challenges on the agenda of UNCTAD I. And we continue to face existential threats that are – at least for the time being – preventable. Most poignant for someone looking at us from the perspective of UNCTAD I, many of us still share the imperative for a new international order.

5. Today, with the experience and expectations of more than half a century, we recognize the need for a system with the imperatives of development at its core, as well as the necessary instruments and mechanisms to allow us to work in solidarity to rebuild from the pandemic. At UNCTAD 15, we have the opportunity to move one step closer towards that through a quadrennial conference of perhaps unprecedented impact. Conscious of this, and in recognition of our common responsibility, we should be seized with the sense of history already written, and history yet to be made.

Mr. President,

6. The Group of 77 and China takes this responsibility very seriously. We have been hard at work since the beginning of this year on a position paper that represents our expectations and aspirations for the future, and how UNCTAD can move us closer to their realization. We have continued to update our position paper to take into account the rapidly evolving global situation, in addition to articulating our views on issues such as the threats to multilateralism, emerging challenges such as the current pandemic, the need to foster structural transformation, overcoming environmental vulnerability, the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, mobilizing financing for development and overcoming debt vulnerability.

7. When we table our paper, we will also articulate our vision of the role that UNCTAD can play in the pursuit of these objectives. We are conscious of the work that remains to realize the Nairobi Maafikiano’s mandate to revitalize the intergovernmental machinery. It is unfortunate that business as usual after UNCTAD 14 did not allow us to fully advance as we expected at Nairobi. We hope that the imperatives arising from the pandemic will give greater impetus to revitalizing our intergovernmental machinery. This would include ensuring that we once more have agreed negotiated outcomes that correspond with the breadth and depth of the secretariat’s substantive work and the corresponding agenda that we have set for the Board and its subsidiary bodies. Only in this way will we be able to credibly claim to have a meaningful consensus-building pillar in UNCTAD.

8. We therefore believe that our contribution to the substantive preparatory process will enable the President to prepare a negotiating text that balances the substance that forms the traditional core of the negotiated outcome, with specific ways and means of strengthening the intergovernmental machinery. The logic is simple: in Nairobi we moved from decisions to action. At UNCTAD 15, we should progress from action to results. I should recall here what we said at Nairobi: when we speak of UNCTAD we do not refer to the secretariat alone, but to all of us. It is therefore crucial to remember that when we speak of action and results, we inherently speak also of member states.

9. We consequently look forward to the contributions from other groups, as well as the Report of the Secretary-General to UNCTAD 15. These intellectual inputs will allow us to have a more inclusive process to complement the negotiations. Indeed, allow me to stress that the Group of 77 and China is committed to engaging with all our partners in an inclusive and mutually respectful way to ensure a robust and meaningful outcome for UNCTAD 15. I am confident that this will be reciprocated. We believe that the historic adoption of the terms-of-reference of the Working Party later this week will be a testament to this, the positive engagement that is possible among all member States in UNCTAD.

Mr. President.

10. To be consistent with this spirit of enfranchisement and inclusion, we need to look beyond this Palais des Nations. We therefore embrace your initiative, Mr. President, of engaging the membership and all stakeholders in development through UNCTAD 15 pre-events in the form of webinars and other virtual meetings. This is an excellent start, but we must also be sensitive to the realities of the emerging new normal.

11. This requires bridging the gap between the virtual and the physical. We have learned much since the pandemic began, and we have significantly advanced in the sophistication of virtual events. Yet the core business of diplomacy continues to require human interaction. Lest we be distracted by temporary expedients that may appear to be long-term solutions, the new reality requires us to focus on the central elements of our quadrennial conference.

12. One of these central elements is the political significance and importance of the conference. We need to ensure that UNCTAD 15 will have the substance and gravitas to ensure ministerial-level attendance and participation. The other core element is the full and meaningful participation of developing countries. Given the very real digital divide, this means that UNCTAD 15 must be a physical conference. Anything else would not only marginalize developing countries – worse, we run the risk of disenfranchising the most vulnerable among us. This is something that we should also always have at the forefront of our thinking as we continue to adjust the work of the intergovernmental machinery including the Prepcom.

13. For these reasons, the Group of 77 and China admires and fully supports the continued commitment of Barbados to hold UNCTAD 15 in Bridgetown. The Group is confident that Barbados and the Secretariat will continue to assess the situation regularly and make the necessary arrangements and adjustments for a successful and safe conference.

Mr. President.

14. The stakes for a historic UNCTAD conference have perhaps never been higher. Today we are faced with important challenges that will define our generation and define the future of another. History will judge whether our generation was up to the task of passing on a better world to our children. This judgement will be very real: the future of our children and succeeding generations is literally at stake. We therefore need to think big and deliver bigger. For the Group of 77 and China, there is no alternative. Our people, the vast majority of humanity, are depending on us. I hope that our partners will join us in this effort because the simple truth is that all of humanity is counting on us.

I thank you, Mr. President.

© The Group of 77