Experts Discuss “New Multilateralism” for Development
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Opening the Committee for Development Policy's 21st plenary session, the ECOSOC President said the Council looks forward to the Committee’s recommendations that will feed into the management and integration segments of ECOSOC, as well as the HLPF.

In a discussion among development specialists, Kevin Gallagher, Boston University, said the multilateral system stemming from the UN Charter and the Bretton Woods Conference is breaking down, and he suggested it is time for a new multilateralism that sets the SDGs and a just transition as the core goals of the system.

12 March 2019: Specialists held a discussion on the future of development policy in a changing multilateral context, addressing evolving roles for states, new principles for multilateralism and the global trading system, and the need to rebuild trust in the rules-based international system to tackle global problems. UN officials underlined the importance of this discussion for informing the high-level meetings planned for 2019.

The event took place as part of the 21st plenary session of the UN Committee for Development Policy (CDP), which convened from 11-15 March 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, explained that populism is an exploitation of anger by people who feel that the current economic system has failed them. In the “irony at the loveless heart of populism,” she said, the anger is directed against the very rules-based system that could address the problem.

Byanyima said threats to multilateralism are already affecting developing nations. For example, aid flows to LDCs are stagnating; the promotion of private financing risks is displacing public funds; and the number of bilateral trade agreements is increasing, “favoring the powerful rather than the worst-off.” She reported that the defunding of certain multilateral agencies affects women more than men, and she said poorer countries will suffer most from a failure to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Kevin Gallagher, Boston University, echoed the idea that the multilateral system is breaking down. He said the current system stems from the UN Charter and the UN Monetary and Financial Conference (the ‘Bretton Woods’ conference), and its social foundations have been replaced with the globalization of capital as an ends rather than a means to achieve social goals. He called for a new multilateralism that sets out the SDGs and a just transition as the core goals. Gallagher said 21st century multilateralism should:

  • Deliver full and decent employment at livable wages;
  • Close socio‐economic gaps, within and across generations, nations, households, and genders;
  • Democratize markets and extend economic rights; and
  • Ensure healthy and zero net‐carbon environments.

Ha-Joon Chang, University of Cambridge, said the trading system should be reformed in a more “pro-developmental” way, to provide developing countries with more space to pursue policies that are suitable for their respective stages of development. He said that developing countries, having made few commitments under the World Trade Organization (WTO), have greater room for maneuver, including in relation to local content requirements. Thus, he noted, the restrictions on policies that countries need for economic development, imposed by the WTO, are “considerable but not overwhelming.” However, bilateral or regional trade and investment agreements between developing countries and developed countries, especially those with the US, are “WTO-plus,” so they severely restrict policy freedom.

Mariana Mazzucato, University College London, noted that in the current economic context, private wealth creators are encouraged to invest in capabilities, take risks, welcome uncertainty, learn from trial and error, make strategic choices and be “hungry and foolish.” At the same time, public servants are encouraged to facilitate, de-risk, level the playing field, redistribute value, fix market failures, and then get out of the way of philanthropies and businesses to step in. She said to help countries achieve the SDGs, political agenda-setting and civic engagement should set clear, targeted missions (such as the SDGs), and then choose from a portfolio of projects geared towards those missions. In this context, she underlined, the role of the state should be to welcome uncertainty, co-create and shape markets, including by tilting the playing field towards the desired missions, focusing on capacity building, and picking those willing to contribute to the missions.

The CDP’s plenary session was opened by Inga Rhoda King, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), who highlighted that the CDP will issue recommendations to feed into ECOSOC’s management and integration segments, as well as the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). It will also make recommendations on the application of the least developed country (LDC) category by the UN development system, in view of the upcoming Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR).

Maria‐Francesca Spatolisano, UN Assistant Secretary‐General for Policy Coordination and Inter‐Agency Affairs, highlighted the CDP’s ongoing analysis of the voluntary national reviews (VNR) presented to the HLPF each year, saying they provide guidance for the Forum’s thematic sessions and can help frame discussion during the VNR Labs, which began as an innovative format at the 2018 HLPF and are expected to continue at the July 2019 session.

Spatolisano further encouraged CDP to discuss better ways for the UN system and international partners to support LDC graduating countries and to recommend improved graduation procedures. [CDP 21st Plenary Session – Agenda] [Winnie Byanyima Presentation] [Ha-Joon Chang Presentation] [Kevin Gallagher Presentation] [Mariana Mazzucato Presentation] [Event Flyer] [Event Website] [CDP Website] [Inga Rhoda King Speech] [Maria‐Francesca Spatolisano Speech] [About the CDP]

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