Forging an Asia-Pacific response to the global crisis

Op-Ed by Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP

Published by The Nation, Thailand

Date: 15 May 2009

Leaders of 192 member States will gather in New York from 1- 3 June 2009, for the United Nations conference on the world financial and economic crisis and its impact on development. The meeting – only the second held by the UN on the global financial and economic system since Bretton Woods more than six decades ago – has been dubbed as G-192. Countries from Asia and the Pacific are well prepared for this historic gathering, for they will come with a shared regional perspective on the current crisis, and a commitment to cooperate to address the challenges.

These common positions have been generated through a series of intergovernmental meetings convened by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), over the past year, which addressed regional development issues in areas such as transportation, Millennium Development Goals (MDG) statistics, information technology, disaster risk reduction, and the food-fuel-financial crises in the context of climate change.

These ESCAP meetings culminated in deliberations last month at the 65th annual session of the Commission, which provides the only region-wide intergovernmental forum where all countries in the region discuss issues of common concern and come up with concerted actions.

The Prime Minister of Thailand, Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva, noted during the Commission session that regional cooperation is key for Asia and the Pacific to address development challenges, and ESCAP has an important role to play: “The concerted efforts of the regional states and beyond are needed to cushion our people – especially the poor – against the impact of this crisis. As a parliament of Asia and the Pacific, ESCAP has performed an invaluable role in addressing and responding to the real needs of the peoples on the ground across the region.”

During the Commission session, ministers and senior officials from across the region recognized that the triple threat of economic crisis, food-fuel price volatility and climate change could roll back development gains. They reconfirmed the development paradigm that economic recovery should be inclusive and sustainable, with consensus on the need to respond to threats with systemic changes and deeper reforms. The various fiscal stimulus packages, pro-poor food security measures and policy reforms undertaken by governments in the region provided an excellent opportunity for this.

The meeting identified a number of areas for urgent action, including, establishment of more stable and durable exchange rate systems at the regional level, the possible establishment of an Asian Monetary Fund, and development of social security systems to catalyze domestic demand and recovery.

In addition, the enormous opportunities for expanding regional economic integration to leverage the potential of South-South trade and investment were highlighted. Early conclusion of the Doha Round in accordance with its development mandate would be essential to this process. According to the World Trade Organization its completion would be equivalent to a global stimulus package of over US 150 billion dollars.

Asia-Pacific countries also recognized that the current crisis presents an opportunity to invest in new green technologies and industries, creating a modern economy based on green growth, energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy.

During the Commission session, I sensed a renewed commitment among Asia-Pacific countries to seek common solutions and forge new partnerships for regional cooperation. This was underscored most clearly during a special session on the least developed, landlocked and small island developing states which account for roughly half of the countries in our region. The triple crises hit these poorest and most vulnerable countries the hardest. For them, regional cooperation is absolutely essential to deal with these multiple challenges.

ESCAP not only provides a forum for forging regional consensus, it is a platform for launching actions. On the final day of this year’s Commission session, our member governments unanimously resolved to implement a comprehensive framework of action addressing the financial, food and energy crises and climate change – a road map towards sustainable recovery and growth. They decided to develop policy responses to restore growth and avoid future global shocks, and to further the regional dialogue to address the impact of the crises on the MDGs. Countries from our region are now well committed to offer the Asia Pacific perspective and solutions to the upcoming G-192 meeting in New York.