In the afternoon of the third day of our study-tour we had the opportunity to hear a secretariat briefing on economic development by Mr. Pingfan Hong and his colleague Mr. Oumar Diallol. Mr. Pingfan Hong is a Senior Economic Affairs Officer at the Development Policy Analysis Division, of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).
The mission of DESA is to serve as a central interface between global policies in economic, social and environmental areas and in national action. DESA mainly collects, generates and evaluates a broad series of data, promotes negotiations of Member States in several intergovernmental fields and assists in assembling national capacities. The responsibilities of DESA include preparing background material for the General Assembly and other committees, releasing publications for the general public and maintaining data of about 150 countries.
First Mr. Hong introduced us to the Development Policy and Planning Office (DPPO) which prepares policy papers and statements. It is particularly devoted to providing advice on development policy. It supports the Secretary-General and the Inter-Governmental sphere and ensures the further progress of the positive results of the Millennium Summit. Mr. Hong critically discussed the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and their most important effects to date. After having stated that the Millennium Summit in the year 2000 has been the most important meeting in the recent years, he criticized the United Nations for not having the resources to implement everything decided upon, leading to a gap between what has been set on the agenda and what is actually being implemented. However, he also underlined that the United Nations have set a number of important standards and offered guidance to many developing countries through programs such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
According to Mr. Hong economic issues of high importance are the large fluctuation of the US Dollar vis-à-vis other currencies, the imbalance in world economy and the area of energy and raw materials. We were given an overview on the economic prospects of Africa. Because of the increasing demand for exports of raw materials, the fastest growing economies are very often the ones based on oil. At the same time the countries suffering the most in this region are the ones characterized by political instability. Important achievements have been made in Africa, such as taking control of the regional inflation, finding internal policy solutions, improving the sense of transparency and accountability, diversifying production and export and increasing Africa’s share of the world economy. Our speaker stressed that the outlook for 2005 for Africa’s economic development implied political risks, high prices for oil and a higher level of foreign assistance, i.e. in the fight against AIDS.
In the second part of his speech Mr. Hong emphasized the aspect of imbalance in the global economy. In an open and globalised economy countries are capable of spending more than they produce. Observing the US economy it becomes evident that the Dollar still is the reserve currency for transaction processes for many countries. Many of the developing countries are left with insufficient funds for their investments, which makes the gap between the rich and the poor countries even wider. In order to reverse the global imbalance rooted in the asymmetrical flow in the international economy, the surplus countries need to reconsider their economic systems. Since China’s economy is developing very fast with a population of 1.3 billion people, many Western countries tend to blame China for their own job losses. The structure of the Chinese economy consists of two important elements: low labour costs and high household savings. According to Pingfan Hong, the modernized institutions that were gained through Chinese reforms are also beneficial for the world as a whole.
Closing off the briefing, Mr. Hong addressed the issue of the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals once again. He emphasised that especially the task to reduce by half the proportion of people suffering from poverty by 2015 is of vital importance for international security and stability. Although many donor countries embraced the achievement of the goals by providing resources, the majority of African countries are likely to fail according to their economic trend. Three main points can be cited as difficulties in meeting the goals: (1) Poor Governments, corruption, (2) Poverty trap (too poor for investment) and (3) Geographical conditions.
Finally, Mr. Hong stressed the urgent need for actions that further promote the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. I am sure that he had the support of the whole Delegation when he suggested that donor countries should open their markets to developing countries and support them in their efforts for investment.