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Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UNCTAD: The World Desperately Needs Solidarity, Fraternity and Multilateralism

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30 October 2023|Press Release

The prominent economist and former Vice President of Costa Rica, delivered the seventeenth Raúl Prebisch Lecture at ECLAC.


ECLAC Executive Secretary with Rebeca Grynspan
ECLAC's Executive Secretary, José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, and the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Rebeca Grynspan (Photo: ECLAC).
Photo: ECLAC

“The suffering we see around us is a reminder of what is at stake when we lose sight of the long term, when we leave people behind and we lose the ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes. What we’re seeing is a preview of what the world could be in 2030, if the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) fail,” Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), warned during the seventeenth Raúl Prebisch Lecture, which she gave today at the main headquarters of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The former Vice President of Costa Rica delivered a lecture entitled “Globalization Disrupted: Prebisch, Trade Imbalances, and the Future of International Economics,” in which she analyzed the transition from hyper-globalization to what she called “poly-globalization” and explored the legacy of Raúl Prebisch. José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, made the opening remarks.

“Out there, millions of people are suffering. The cascading economic crises, COVID-19, the implacable climate disasters, war, geopolitics and unbearable debt burdens are calling into question the very fabric of our global society,” warned Rebeca Grynspan, the first woman to hold the position of Secretary-General of UNCTAD.

She added that the shared agendas prepared by countries in 2015 are lagging. “At this pace, only 15% of the SDGs will be achieved by 2030. We have seen setbacks in indicators on poverty, hunger and gender equality, to mention just a few,” she specified.

The prominent economist noted that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which was a driver of growth and development for so long, has stagnated since the 2008 crisis in the vast majority of developing countries. She also flagged the fact that the gap for financing the SDGs in the Global South – which totaled $2.5 trillion dollars in 2015 – now amounts to $4 trillion dollars.

She further warned that 3.3 billion people – or nearly half of all humanity – live in countries that spend more resources on debt servicing than on funding health or education.

“We find ourselves in a paradigm where the SDGs and the Paris Agreement are very difficult to attain and this is hugely dangerous, because the SDGs are too big to fail. The SDGs are much more than a set of goals, they make up our latest shared agenda in a world that is more polarized than ever, a world that desperately needs solidarity, fraternity and multilateralism,” she affirmed.

In her lecture, Rebeca Grynspan asserted that we are moving from a period of hyper-globalization to one of poly-globalization. She said the peak of hyper-globalization took place between 1990 and 2010, when FDI expanded sevenfold, international trade fourfold, and access to Internet reached 30% of the population.

“But below the surface, three negative factors grew in this period: inequality within countries, premature deindustrialization (with stagnation in employment), and a lack of resilience in the international system,” she stated.

UNCTAD’s Secretary-General said the world today faces a globalization that is more decentralized, moving from a system dominated by a few global powers to a network of regional poles, big continental economies in the South, and the rise of various plurinational forums. “We are facing a competitive multilateralism, not a universal one,” she declared.

She further stressed that while it is not yet clear whether this multipolarity will deepen multilateralism, it is known that important political poles are emerging.

“At the moment, however, the geopolitics of multipolarity is leaving us without free spaces,” she said, explaining that in multilateralism there must be independent spaces, but today it would seem that everything is colored by geopolitics.

She also warned about the existence of a crisis in the rules of trade.

“The world does not have a trade structure adapted to a context in which all the poles are making industrial policy. This can be a hazard in the long term, especially for small countries that depend on rules-based international trade,” she stated.

Finally, Rebeca Grynspan shared a deep analysis of the work and legacy of Raúl Prebisch, former Executive Secretary of ECLAC (1950-1963) and former Secretary-General of UNCTAD (1964-1969).

She emphasized that one of Prebisch’s main legacies is his call for multilateral cooperation, and she stressed that today, in the context of poly-globalization, this call should give a voice to the countries that have been marginalized historically in global decision-making.

“Our institutions (ECLAC and UNCTAD) in their longevity have done a great deal to give this voice, close this gap and provide fair solutions for all countries, but our greatest task has scarcely begun,” she sustained.

In his opening remarks, meanwhile, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, stressed the importance of the Raúl Prebisch Lecture, which he described as “a space for reflection and analysis that has always had its sights set on how to build a better future for all people, not just on remembering the past, or merely contemplating the present.”

“We have suffered through the dreadful COVID-19 pandemic, with its enormous and devasting economic and social consequences. The technological and digital revolution has accelerated, along with the technological rivalry between the major powers. We have had a crisis in global supply chains. We have moved to a new era of high inflation and high interest rates and credit costs. And when we thought that wars had been left to the history books, war broke out in Ukraine, and now another in the Middle East, with potentially devastating consequences and risks. And on top of this, we must add the already very clear effects of climate change,” the regional commission’s highest authority warned.

He added that given this context of profound challenges and threats to human progress, given the radical change in realities and perceptions regarding the advantages and risks of interdependence and globalization, given new threats to multilateralism, as well as to democratic systems, it was essential that ECLAC resume the Raúl Prebisch Lecture.

“And we resume this Lecture today with a person who has studied human development in depth; who has dedicated her life to fighting poverty and generating more conditions for development with equality; who has a broad vision of the world and of the region, with an extraordinary capacity for negotiation and dialogue in regional and multilateral spaces; and who has also always had a special sensitivity to those people who find themselves in a state of vulnerability and injustice,” he emphasized.

The Raúl Prebisch Lecture was created in 2001 by then Executive Secretary José Antonio Ocampo, as a way to pay tribute to the renowned Argentine economist 100 years after his birth. In August 2001, the first lecturer in the Commission’s new series was the widely remembered Brazilian economist Celso Furtado. Since then, other prominent figures have delivered the lecture: Joseph Stiglitz, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Rubens Ricupero, Dani Rodrik, Enrique V. Iglesias, Tulio Halperin, Fernando Savater, Aldo Ferrer, José Antonio Ocampo, Danilo Astori, Luiz Gonzaga de Mello Belluzzo, Rolando Cordera, Mariana Mazzucato, Ricardo Ffrench-Davis and Ha-Joon Chang.