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  • UNCTAD14 to showcase UN agency on globalisation and SDGs
    14 July 2016

    When the curtain comes up on UNCTAD14 next Sunday, it will showcase an organisation with one foot rooted in history and both eyes looking to the future.

    Opening in Nairobi on July 17, the six day event has special historical resonance, but it makes important concessions to the future. Some 52 years ago, for example, Geneva hosted UNCTAD1, at that time the biggest conference ever, with 4,000 delegates from 120 countries.

    The conference established a UN agency, whose mission was to support developing countries to benefit from trade more effectively. The agency was the UN Conference on Trade and Development, or UNCTAD.

    The organisation has come far since then. In addition to trade, for example, UNCTAD now works on finance, investment, and technology, making it even more essential to developing countries that wish to access the benefits, and to protect against the downsides, of globalisation in the 21st century.

    "We've had to move very much with the times, evolving with the rapidly changing global context," says Mukhisa Kituyi, UNCTAD's Secretary-General.

    "We provide solutions to some of the most pressing issues of our time - all of them linked to globalisation," Dr. Kituyi says.

    Held every four years, the UNCTAD conferences renew the UNCTAD mandate, keeping it fit for purpose. The 5,000 anticipated participants at UNCTAD14 - including UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon - will be generating not just new networks, partnerships, and solutions, they will also be fixing the organisation's goals for the next four years.

    The timing is opportune.

    Most urgently, storm clouds are sat over the global economy. Economic growth is sluggish, poverty and inequality remain pervasive, and resistance to globalisation is growing.

    The conference is the first since the global community fixed its new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) last year, outlining a vision of how the world should look in 2030.

    "These SDGs offer excellent signposts, ways to measure our success in converting trade, investment, finance, and technology into our ultimate goal - prosperity for all," says Joakim Reiter, UNCTAD's Deputy Secretary-General, who notes the conference tagline: "from Decisions to Actions".

    Globalisation, including a phenomenal expansion of trade, has helped lift millions out of poverty. But Mr. Reiter adds that not enough people have benefitted, even as expectations grow.

    Meeting these expectations will not be easy. But for the first time in its history, the UNCTAD meeting will have a youth forum, representing the 50 percent of the world who are younger than 30.

    "When they're deciding on their work for the next few years, it's important that UNCTAD includes points of view from the future," said Samira Fierro Sedas, who helps to coordinate the forum.

    "We want to be included, taken into consideration," she added.

    The problems are easy to identify, the solutions are so much harder.

    The world has become more complex since 1964, when UNCTAD was founded, and the solutions must involve a wider variety of actors. Today, UNCTAD works not just with governments, but closely with the private sector and civil society too.

    These groups will all be present at UNCTAD14, which promises a set of timely and fascinating discussions on issues that matter to us all today.

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