Wednesday, July 17, 2024
InterviewCelebrating 60 Years of UNCTAD

Celebrating 60 Years of UNCTAD

Sixty years ago, the United Nations established the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) with the aspiration of creating a level playing field in global trade and fostering development worldwide. This June, UNCTAD will commemorate its 60th anniversary with a Global Leaders Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, under the theme “Charting a New Development Course in a Changing World.”

In anticipation of this milestone, a pre-event took place in Addis Ababa on June 4, 2024, at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) banquet. Jointly organized by UNCTAD, UNECA, and the African Minerals Development Center, the gathering brought together leaders from across Africa to discuss sustainable development in a world where prosperity for all remains a central and fundamental goal.

The pre-event focused on the opportunities and resources within the critical minerals sector to support Africa’s development. Discussions highlighted the challenges of illegal mining and conflict-related mining activities that plague the continent. The event underscored the importance of frameworks such as the Africa Mining Vision, Africa Green Minerals Strategies, and various sub-regional and national policies aimed at maximizing the developmental impact of Africa’s mineral wealth.

Panelists examined the current boom in critical minerals, essential for the global energy transition, within the context of Africa’s own energy and mineral industrialization needs. The event addressed challenges in raising revenues and promoting value addition in the minerals sector. It also explored how UNCTAD, UNECA, and other key partners can position themselves to effectively support African countries in tackling macro-level development challenges, leveraging their natural resource endowments, and mitigating exposure to financial volatility and debt.

Diane Sayinzoga, Chief of the UNCTAD Regional Office for Africa, provided insights into these discussions. The Reporter’s AshenafiEndale spoke with Sayinzoga to delve deeper into UNCTAD’s initiatives and the outcomes of the pre-event in Addis Ababa. EXCERPTS:

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The Reporter: Could you please provide an overview of UNCTAD’s accomplishments over the past six decades, as well as the obstacles it has encountered?

Diane Sayinzoga: TheUN Trade and Development has played a pivotal role in promoting sustainable development, trade and investment, particularly in developing countries, over the past six decades. It has advocated for the interests of developing countries in the global trading system and provided them with critical technical assistance, helping these nations build capacity in areas such as trade negotiations, investment promotion and economic diversification.

We have also guided many countries in creating and implementing policies to improve their productive capacities, attract sustainable investment, manage public debt and finances, use e-commerce to promote economic growth and development, among other areas. Wehave also been a driving force behind many trade facilitation policies and tools used by many countries.

For example, the UN Trade and Development’s customs management system, ASYCUDA, was created in Africa and has been implemented on the continent for over 40 years. It has delivered trade facilitation benefits, boosted employment and increased revenues for countries around the globe. About 40 African countries and territories are currently using the system.

Challenges include global economic inequalities that persist between developed and developing countries despite progress, protectionist policies that undermine the multilateral trading system, economic shocks that affect financing for development and climate change, which threatens sustainable development, particularly for vulnerable economies.

Presently, African economies are attempting to implement the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), with the aim of enhancing intra-African trade. In this context, How do you see the potentials and challenges of AfCFTA?

The AfCFTA represents a landmark opportunity for Africa to accelerate economic growth, diversify economies and reduce poverty through enhanced trade by creating a single market of over 1.3 billion people with a combined GDP of around USD 3.4 trillion.

It can significantly increase trade among African nations by reducing tariffs and removing trade barriers. This could lead to a diversified range of goods and services being exchanged across the continent, boosting economic resilience. A united African market can also improve the continent’s bargaining power in global trade negotiations, allowing African countries to secure better trade deals.

By encouraging trade in a broader range of goods and services, AfCFTA can also help African economies diversify away from a heavy reliance on commodity exports. Diversification can foster industrialization and the development of value-added industries. Increased economic activity and industrialization can create millions of jobs, particularly for the continent’s young and growing population, helping to reduce poverty levels.

Challenges include implementation barriers such as diverse trade policies, regulatory frameworks and standards across countries; infrastructure gaps that hinder the efficient movement of goods and services; non-tariff barriers such as customs procedures and border controls; and limited capacity to effectively participate in and benefit from AfCFTA.

To tackle these challenges, UNCTADhas supported the African Union Commission and its members in negotiations on the AfCFTAagreement, and in building their capacities to implement it to integrate regionally and into the world economy on an equitable basis. We also provide analytical and advisory support to the AfCFTA Secretariat and its members for better understanding the economic implications and development outcomes of the different liberalization options, tariff schedule offers and rules of origin.

How do you evaluate Africa’s prospects in global trade?

Africa’s prospects in global trade are bright. The continent’s rapidly growing population offers a substantial market for goods and services. This demographic growth can drive domestic demand and make Africa an attractive destination for global trade.

The continent is also rich in natural resources, including critical energy transition minerals such as cobalt, copper and lithium. If harnessed sustainably, they can provide a strong foundation for economic growth and export earnings.

Efforts to diversify economies away from dependence on raw material exports towards value-added goods and services are gaining traction. Sectors like manufacturing, technology, and services are emerging, which can enhance Africa’s position in global trade.

The AfCFTA also enhances Africa’s global trade prospects by easing commerce across the continent and creating a more cohesive economic bloc.

Africa is also forming strategic partnerships with major economies across the world, which can lead to increased investment, better trade terms and improved infrastructure.

We at UNCTAD focus on supporting countries to turn these trade prospects into tangible benefits for people across Africa by creating jobs, reducing poverty and fostering sustainable development.

Do you think Africa is utilizing the ‘late comers’ advantage’ when it comes to global technology transfer? Why? Is it because Africa has no institutional and human capital capacity to receive the latest technologies, or because the developed nations are not willing to transfer the technology?

Africa has made strides in leveraging the “latecomer’s advantage” in some sectors. For example, it has successfully leapfrogged traditional landline infrastructure by rapidly adopting mobile technology. Countries like Kenya have become pioneers in mobile banking with services like M-Pesa. In the renewable energy sector, many African countries are investing in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, bypassing the need for extensive fossil fuel infrastructure. Also, there’s a growing adoption of digital services, including e-commerce, leveraging the latest internet and mobile technologies.

But to fully capitalize on the latecomer’s advantage, African countries need to invest more in education and training, improve infrastructure, create conducive regulatory environments, and foster partnerships that facilitate technology transfer. Collaboration with developed nations should be encouraged through policies that protect intellectual property and provide mutual economic benefits, ensuring that Africa can effectively integrate into the global technological landscape.

Can you provide your insights on the principles of equity and fairness in international trade? Additionally, what is UNCTAD’s upcoming short-term and long-term strategic objectives? 

Equity and fairness in international trade are essential for creating a balanced global economy where all nations can thrive. Our plans, both short-term and long-term, reflect a commitment to these principles, aiming to empower developing countries, particularly in Africa, to harness trade for sustainable and inclusive growth.

We will continue to provide technical assistance and policy advice to ensure the successful implementation of the AfCFTA and to facilitate structural transformation in Africa by helping to boost productive capacities to enable countries to move beyond reliance on primary commodities.

We will also support countries to enhance economic resilience against global shocks and continue to deliver targeted capacity-building programs to equip policymakers, businesses and trade practitioners with the skills needed to navigate complex global trade environments effectively.

And we will continue to work to ensure that trade contributes to inclusive economic growth and sustainable development across Africa.

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