Secretary-General, Heads of State, Ministers and Distinguished Colleagues
I thank Qatar for hosting the thirteenth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. The Conference provides us with a timely forum to reflect and deliberate on the challenges, risks and opportunities following the global financial crisis and the generally subdued recovery since then.
Since UNCTAD met four years ago in Accra, the world has experienced a financial crisis, which led to a slowdown in trade, rise in unemployment and put at risk the ability of people to escape the cycle of poverty.
The world was able to act in concert to address the crisis in 2008-2009 but just as recovery was occurring, new threats to the global economy are putting pressures on governments to find sources of sustainable and balanced growth.
World trade volume will grow well below trend over the next two years, at 4 per cent in 2012 and 5.6 per cent in 2013 (IMF). Global unemployment, particularly amongst youth, remains stubbornly high. The ILO estimates the number of unemployed globally has increased by 27 million since 2008.
Guidance, from UNCTAD and elsewhere, on best-practice policy responses is more critical than ever.
Australia is a firm believer in the value of open markets. Now, more than ever, the value of maintaining open markets, and working towards opening more markets, cannot be overstated. In the face of mounting pressures on some of our domestic industries, there is a tendency to resort to protectionist measures.
Barriers to trade raise the price of both imports and domestic products, restrict consumer choice and usually lower quality by relieving competitive pressure.
They do not provide the policy settings that deliver medium to long-term growth.
Yet growth alone will not be sufficient to ensure development that is inclusive. Growth policies are best complemented by progressive distribution policies, social safety nets and labour market reform.
We recognise that for developing countries, especially least developed countries, the challenges are immense and require assistance to address challenges. In the last five years, Australia has dramatically increased the size of its aid program. We have gone into new areas and countries, where we have previously had limited exposure, including Africa.
We have given priority to helping countries address food security. Food security is a critical global issue posing fundamental challenges for all member countries.
Over 900 million people globally are currently food insecure.
Last year alone, Australia provided over $300 million towards improving world food security.
Last year, Australia hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
At this meeting, the 53 developed and developing countries from every continent concluded the Perth Declaration on Food Security Principles. This Declaration set out principles for dealing with the short, medium and long term needs and underscored the commitment of the Commonwealth countries to support global food security efforts.
The international community must develop a comprehensive approach to alleviating the short term impacts of food shortages and excessive price volatility on developing countries, and improving the overall global food system to achieve long term food security for all.
Australia is a world leader in agricultural research. Through the work of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Australia is finding ways to increase food production and generate sustainable agricultural solutions with our developing-country partners, particularly those in Africa and the Asia-Pacific.
My own role as Parliamentary Secretary with specific responsibilities for the Pacific reflects the priority Australia gives to small island developing countries. Next week I will be attending a meeting of CARICOM where many of the same issues affecting Small Island Developing States will be discussed.
While the various small island developing states of the world have different histories and heritages, now more than ever they are united by a common cause: namely climate change.
Seeking to prevent climate change and adapting to it are existential issues for these countries. From the effects of landslides on the agriculture and tourist industries of St Lucia to the effect that storms and rising sea levels are having on the water security of Kiribati; small island developing states are genuinely on the front line of climate change.
We need to see global funds flowing to help these countries in facing the challenge of climate change, and Australia is proud that it has already committed more than 80% of our contribution to the Global Fast Start climate change adaptation funding. This is important in its own terms but we hope that it serves as an example to the rest of the donor community.
But while climate change may have been the catalyst for greater cooperation between Small Island Developing States, the similarity in the way they experience so much of their lives is also now being acknowledged.
The challenges of affordable power where it is derived from diesel generators and imported fuel; the need for greater regionalism to overcome small and isolated populations in areas as diverse as universities or fishing; or the importance of having greater economic integration and regional trade… all of these are shared experiences of all SIDS.
Helping meet these needs and face these challenges for SIDS is now a key part of Australia’s global development assistance focus.
UNCTAD XIII’s objective is to set a clear work agenda over the next four years. This will need to be prioritised, reflecting the needs of developing countries and the resource constraints of all. UNCTAD will need to collaborate with other international organisations and fora. Continued engagement in the G20 process will be particularly important, where coordination of government policies has proven effective.
Australia very much welcomed UNCTAD’s contribution to the analytical work done by a group of international organisations last year on commodity price volatility. That report found that the causes of commodity price volatility are complex and are not resolved by regulating prices but by addressing the root causes.
The importance of open trade and investment as tools for attaining national development objectives and achieving the Millennium Development Goals should not be underestimated.
Countries that have included trade as part of their development strategy have grown more rapidly. And trade is positively associated with income per capita.
We urge the Member States of the WTO to continue to pursue results in the WTO Doha Development Round.
While the previous approach to negotiations has reached a deadlock, we should look at more innovative ways, including addressing the agenda in more manageable parts.
We also call on other governments to join Australia in providing duty-free, quota-free market access for all LDC exports. Our experience in this has been positive.
Of course, market access improvements need to be complemented by strengthened "aid-for-trade" efforts.
Australia’s commitment to building capacity to enable trade is reflected in our support of key multilateral programs. For example, we have committed $6 million to the WTO Global Trust Fund.
To assist small and medium businesses in developing countries along the full value chain, including connecting producers to markets, we have committed $3 million for the next three years to the International Trade Centre.
Australia recognises that gender inequalities are barriers to sustainable development.
70 per cent of people living on less than one dollar a day are women. If we do not promote women’s economic participation we cannot hope to end poverty. Women are a powerful economic resource. Improving their access to land, productive resources and finance is a powerful driver in the economic development of any nation.
Australia’s commitment to reducing gender inequalities is demonstrated by our support of programs to increase the level of education among women.
For example, between 2006 and 2011, Australia helped Indonesia build 2,074 schools nationwide, creating around 330,000 new places in poor districts where education was limited. Approximately 50 per cent of students enrolled in these schools are girls and we hope to continue our efforts in this area.
We are working to improve women’s participation in the workforce and business through supporting women entrepreneurs including microfinance support in Bangladesh.
Australia would like to see UNCTAD pursue a more active agenda based on the organisation’s core mandate. It has the potential to make a real difference, provide high quality analysis and technical assistance to drive initiatives and reform to deliver significant sustainable development benefits.
The recent review of UNCTAD by the Joint Inspection Unit highlights a number of areas where there is real potential to enhance UNCTAD contribution to the current global debates in trade, investment and development.
Australia urges member states and UNCTAD to seriously consider the report’s institutional reform recommendations for a more effective and efficient organisation.
Australia remains committed to working within UNCTAD to better support developing countries, particularly the small and remote states, to manage these challenges, to share the benefits and achieve broad-based, sustainable, inclusive economic growth and development.
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