UN Chief Stresses Fair Trade for Developing Nations Amid Rising Debt

12 June 2024 – Economic Development

The right to development is closely linked with fair trade, a necessity for the world’s poorest countries, currently “mired in debt” through no fault of their own, UN Secretary-General António Guterres asserted on Wednesday. In a speech marking the 60th anniversary of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Guterres highlighted the multiple challenges that hinder the creation of a more sustainable and inclusive global economy.

Guterres emphasized that these countries must pursue development through equitable trade terms, as they are burdened by escalating debt, exacerbated by both ongoing and new conflicts that ripple across the global economy. This has led to increased global debt levels, while key development indicators, such as poverty and hunger, have regressed.

During his address at the UN Trade and Development Global Leaders Forum in Switzerland, Guterres reiterated that the current international financial architecture is outdated, dysfunctional, and unjust. He noted that it has failed to protect developing countries from debt crises and warned that the international trading system is on the brink of fragmentation due to escalating pressures and geopolitical tensions.

Highlighting the role of UNCTAD, Guterres argued that the agency’s work is more relevant than ever in promoting a sustainable and inclusive global economy through trade and investment. He invoked Raul Prebisch, UNCTAD’s first Secretary-General, asserting that the agency cannot remain neutral on development issues, just as the World Health Organization cannot be neutral on diseases like malaria.

Guterres described trade as a “double-edged sword”—a source of both prosperity and inequality, interconnection and dependence, economic innovation and environmental degradation. He called for increased dialogue between nations to address the near-tripling of trade barriers since 2019, many of which are driven by geopolitical rivalry without consideration for their impact on developing countries.

Stressing the importance of a unified global market, Guterres warned against the division into rival blocs. He emphasized that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ensuring peace and security requires one global market and economy, where poverty and hunger have no place.

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