"We should overcome this notion of North-South": Integrating the world's economy and caring for the earth
The UN Chronicle spoke with the Chair of the Second Committee's sixty-first session, H.E. Tiina Intelmann of Estonia, on 9 November 2006.
Q: Several delegations, such as Burkina Faso, reiterated their faith in the United Nations as a just vehicle for dealing with international economic issues. In terms of trade and development, where do you think the United Nations has been most effective and where does it have the greatest potential to obtain results?
A: The issue of trade is very complicated, especially since the suspension of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Doha round [these negotiations, aimed at increasing economic growth by lowering trade barriers worldwide, reportedly broke down because developed countries could not agree on dismantling their agricultural subsidies]. There have even been discussions as to whether we should still try to work things out and improve multilateral mechanisms, or aim at regional mechanisms, or just go bilateral. It is still clear that WTO is the central pillar of the international trading system and that a well-functioning international trading system would greatly contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. I think it is not only the faith and understanding of Burkina Faso that we should have a multilateral framework, but I think it is the understanding of all of us, and we are trying to work towards it. Of course, it is very difficult. Trade liberalization is a very difficult issue and it is not only a North-South issue, it is also a South-South issue.
I think that the UN is the best multilateral framework for addressing development issues in general and also the role that trade regimes play in it. We address these questions in the Second Committee and adopt resolutions. This doesn't mean that we come to any binding decisions, but it is a political dialogue that shows and hopefully also shapes the political will of countries.
Q: The suspension of the WTO's Doha trade talks, was particularly upsetting for developing countries. What is the future of the Doha talks?
A: The Director-General of the World Trade Organization, Mr. Pascal Lamy, came to the Second Committee and explained his views on this subject. He could not say what was going to happen, so I do not pretend that I know the answer. In the immediate future, these talks are not going to continue. It would take some more political will to start negotiations again, but we should not lose hope. Some expressed the wish that Pascal Lamy come up with a package of proposals, but Mr. Lamy explained that he was not going to do that. If there is not sufficient political will, it is not reasonable to think he could change the situation regarding the Doha talks.
Q: The Secretary-General's report on trade and development pointed out that South-South trade continues to grow, with 42 per cent of developing countries' exports going to other developing countries. The Director of UNCTAD also reported that developing countries' share of world trade rose from 27 to 34 per cent in the past decade. What led to this growth in the developing world, and how can this growth be sustained?
A: International trade can be a powerful engine of growth, development and poverty eradication in all countries, particularly in developing countries. The growth in South-South trade is a very positive trend. When we speak about the development of countries and the role of trade in it, North-South relations are not the only vehicle. We have been talking for years and years about South-South cooperation, and South-South trade is a feature of that. In a globalizing world, at a certain point we should overcome this notion of North-South and we should all be fully integrated in the world economy and in all relations in the world. The increase in South-South trade comes from the development of these countries and their interaction, and this is an extremely positive development. It is also positive that the share of manufactured goods in these transactions is rising.
Q: Natural disasters were featured much more prominently in last year's General Assembly, presumably because of 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the South Asian earthquake. What is happening at the United Nations to prepare for upcoming natural disasters?
A: I don't know if natural disasters were featured more prominently in last year's General Assembly, but one thing is clear: the number of natural disasters has not gone down. In fact, exactly opposite is the case. We should all realize that we are in it together; all of us are vulnerable. Maybe the shock was bigger last year because of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Still, despite the absence of a recent, huge disaster catching the attention of CNN for many days, we should keep working on these issues. One of the ways of addressing this issue is to have adequate funds. The upgrading of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) that took place last year, and now its gradual replenishment, has been very positive. This fund enables us to disburse money very quickly once a disaster occurs and thereby save lives. If we don't react quickly there may not be so many lives to save anymore. The disaster warning systems that are being put into place also have great potential to save lives. A third important issue is how to manage humanitarian assistance when a natural disaster hits a developing country. You'll get blankets and maybe medicine and food, but how do you switch from this immediate humanitarian disaster assistance to reconstruction and further on to broader development assistance? This is one of the issues that the United Nations has been dealing with: when the humanitarian people leave there should be somebody who can steer the country, if the country so wishes, through a broader range of development activities.
Q: How were higher oil prices worldwide reflected in the Second Committee and what were some of the energy issues discussed?
A: Energy has become a very important topic. Oil prices are fluctuating; they were at a very high point during summer and now they have gone down a little bit. Oil prices go up and down, but we should also find a way to use other energy sources. We had a panel discussion on energy security where experts talked about solar energy and other alternative energy sources. This is a concern that we all have, because we cannot rely only on oil, and as we proceed I think more and more countries will pay attention to this fact. It also relates to climate change. A recent report published in Great Britain showed that climate change is not only about the air we breathe and the melting glaciers in faraway places. Climate change has very serious economic and financial implications. The report said that if we don't address this issue now we are going to face tremendous costs in the future.
Q: Finland's representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, called for a resumption of the discussion on environmental governance in the framework of the General Assembly. What kind of issues should the General Assembly discuss regarding environmental governance?
A: I think there has to be an ongoing dialogue in the General Assembly about what is going to happen with Kyoto and other agreements, as well as having one central institution for environmental governance at the United Nations. There has to be a broad cooperation and we all have to realize that environmental issues are a real problem.
Q: Small island States reiterated the urgency of efforts aimed at stopping global warming because they feel threatened by rising sea levels. What is the future of instruments like the Kyoto Protocol, and in what other ways can the United Nations work to preserve the environment?
A: We have to negotiate and find a political consensus about what to do. When you talk about small islands that witness a constantly rising sea level, of course they feel threatened. The situation is even more difficult if that very small island constitutes the whole country and is a developing country. Look at the Netherlands with all these installations to protect the country from the sea. A developing country would not have resources to build them. This is where international cooperation comes into the picture, in trying to stop climate change and helping each other face environmental consequences [The Secretary-General introduced the Nairobi Framework, designed to help developing countries participate in the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol, on 15 November 2006].
Q: The representative of the Inter-Parliamentary Union mentioned "Green Budgeting" as a way for parliaments to take into account ecological costs and improve the environment. What do you think is the future of this tool and what can the United Nations system do to promote "green budgeting"?
A: Environmentally-conscious legislation is very important, and it is clear that parliamentarians and national decision-making play key roles in this. There is a tradition of parliamentary hearings at the United Nations and of course the wider framework of cooperation with the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Q: Would you like to mention anything else regarding the Second Committee?
A: Very often, we try to forge a broad consensus and then hope that this consensus will be reflected in domestic legislation. We hope countries that at a certain point were not able to join consensus might reconsider. It is not a very quick process, but it is very necessary. And of course in the Second Committee, issues have to be considered over a long period of time, for example, financing for development and the Millennium Development Goals. Even if everyone agrees, you don't see change very quickly. But these issues have to be constantly addressed. Perhaps in the Third Committee you vote on a specific issue of Human Rights and you send a political signal. Here [in the Second Committee] the dynamic is different.
Another important issue that the Committee deals with is migration and development. We had a high-level dialogue on migration and now the question is what kind of follow-up you have to this. It has to do with economic development in those countries where migrants come from and those countries that receive them. Overall, migration is a very positive thing, but of course it involves many sensitive issues. We are negotiating a resolution right now to see what kind of follow-up the high-level dialogue should have and how we should further address this issue.
Q: It seems that European Union countries are not speaking as much individually as they have in previous years in the Second Committee and throughout the General Assembly. Why is this?
A: This shows that the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the European Union is getting stronger. Individual EU countries don't take the floor unless a country has something very urgent to say. Otherwise EU countries try to agree on a common statement and everybody's interest is represented. These statements are negotiated carefully and at length, so a real effort is made to have a common voice in the General Assembly.