Statement By Hon. Hussein Bhaila , Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the General Debate of the Economic and Financial Committee ( Second Committee),  of the Sixty-Fourth Session of the General Assembly: 5th October 2009

Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and Gentleman,

On behalf of the delegation of Sri Lanka, I warmly congratulate you Mr. Chairman, on your election. I also wish to assure our fullest cooperation to you and to the bureau in taking forward the agenda of this important Committee in the coming weeks.

Allow me to thank the Under-Secretary General, Ambassador Sha Zukang, for his briefing in this Committee.

My delegation associates itself with the statement delivered by the Chair of the Group of 77 and China.

Mr. Chairman,

The global community is at a critical juncture in our quest for resolving multiple crises that have hindered the well-being of millions of people around the world. The World economy and financial structures experienced the worst turmoil since the ‘great Depression’ in the 1930s, pushing millions more into unemployment and poverty. Added pressure is being exerted on developing economies as they already grapple with great insecurity associated with food and nutrition, instability in fuel prices, and the adverse effects of climate change. The adverse effects of these crises appear greater than what was predicted initially. Hence, the momentum built over the past years and in fact some visible progress achieved in developing countries in realizing the Internationally Agreed Development Goals and MDGs, run the risk of reversal due to these interconnected, and negative countervailing forces.

Achieving sustainable human and economic security for all is the challenge that confronts all of us, nations rich and poor alike. Unless we make concerted efforts to renew our commitment and work expeditiously now,  achieving the set MDGs- ‘the blue print for a better world’, envisaged by our leaders in year 2000 is likely to remain a distant dream. This is the time to act. To show political and economic resilience, and redouble our efforts to help millions of poor and vulnerable populations also to enjoy a decent living. 

 
According to the latest UN MDG review report, “in 2009, an estimated 55 million to 99 million more people will be living in extreme poverty than anticipated before the financial and economic crisis”. It is obvious that the meager reductions in prices of some of the food commodities late last year has not helped in alleviating hunger or meeting the nutritional needs of the most vulnerable groups such as, children, expecting and nursing mothers, and elderly people.  At a time when we should increase the extent of arable land, we have witnessed a rush to generate bio-fuels sacrificing instead available arable land meant for food crops.  Therefore, the current search for stop gap solutions to the energy problem only succeeds in aggravating the more fundamental food crisis. The shocking revelation by the FAO, that 1.02 billion people, one sixth of the world population are undernourished, signals to all of us, the need to expedite action to prevent hunger and malnutrition.

Mr. Chairman,  

Having realized this stark reality, the leaders in our region, during the Fifteenth Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), agreed on the Colombo Declaration on Food Security that calling for a road map for food security and agriculture development. As part of this strategy, the region, which is home for one fifth of the world’s population, will establish a two million ton regional food reserves in the SAARC Food Bank, for any food emergency.  However, increasing the extent of arable land alone would not be sufficient to alleviate hunger and malnutrition. We need to complement these efforts by ensuring the timely provision of improved seeds, water through irrigation, fertilizers, post harvest crop preservation methods and more investments in agriculture research and technology. In Sri Lanka, under the directive of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Government has initiated a comprehensive nation-wide campaign to cultivate all arable land, while providing the necessary infrastructure facilities including market access, financing and other institutional support to stimulate farming in rural areas.

Mr. Chairman,
 
The on going dialogue on protecting our planet and preparing to face the challenges emanating from climate change are matters of priority for all of us. There is no doubt that we should “go green” to protect our own future, our own interests and that of future generations. Government of Sri Lanka has put great emphasis on achieving sustainable development and towards this end; an island-wide programme called “Green Sri Lanka” has been introduced under the aegis of the National Council for Sustainable Development, spearheaded by President Rajapaksa. The objective of the “Green Sri Lanka” national programme is to ensure the integration of environmental concerns into the economic and social development processes, covering ten key areas, and involving all major stakeholders in economic development.

Although a comparatively small island, Sri Lanka along with SIDs, make significant contributions to maintain the balance of our ecosystem by housing   some of the world’s virgin forests and bio diversity hotspots. We are of the view that while the developing countries endeavour to utilize their natural resources in a more sustainable manner, necessary know-how and financial backing should be forthcoming from the industrialized countries, to speed up our sustainable development efforts. We therefore reiterate the need for developed countries, who in the past utilized the bulk of the earth’s natural resources for industrialization and development, to accept the historic responsibility for the current situation and develop an independent mechanism to deal with the “carbon debt’ by these historical mass polluters.   The carbon space of developing countries continues to be occupied by those who continue to maintain unsustainable development paradigms.    

Although Sri Lanka is a low greenhouse gas emitting country, bearing in mind its global responsibility, Sri Lanka has voluntarily established a National Carbon Fund, to facilitate the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Similarly, we are of the view that all developing countries should be adequately supported through financial and technical mechanisms to enhance national climate change adaptation and mitigation.   Development must proceed but we need assistance to make it sustainable.  We urge all stakeholders to show political will in the forthcoming Copenhagen Summit, and spare no efforts to reach a practical revision of the emission rates, for the common benefit of the humanity.

Mr. Chairman,

Let me take this opportunity to express our empathy and solidarity with the Government and people of Samoa, on the death and destruction caused by last week’s Tsunami. As a small island nation, we too have been and are vulnerable to the devastating effects of natural disasters. Since the December 2004 Tsunami that hit our shores, we have made substantive progress in the field of disaster management. Among other things, we have enacted the Sri Lanka Disaster Management Law in 2005. A disaster reduction Road Map was prepared with the assistance of UNDP, the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre and other donors. As a public and private partnership initiative, we have put in place a Disaster and Emergency Warning Network. Currently, we are engaged in developing a risk profile for Sri Lanka, covering hazards such as, floods, landslides, Tsunami, cyclones and droughts.

Mr. Chairman,

Beside natural calamities, the increasing vulnerabilities arising out of the widening disparities in international trade and financial regimes, poor investment flows to developing countries, the technological and digital divide and irregular migration are other key challenges that await practical solutions. Fighting inflation and unemployment simultaneously is a formidable task facing developing countries. This vicious cycle could only be broken by raising investments in the public sector such as in education, human resource development, infrastructure development and stimulating local savings and improving the production sectors. International partnerships in development can make a positive impact on developing economies in this regard. UNCTAD however has observed a 15% reduction of global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flow in the year 2008 due to the financial crisis. If the dampening effects of the crisis on developing economies are to be rectified, we believe that there should be no retreat of the agreed ODA targets. We note with concern the renewed commitment regarding the ODA flows by the G-20 leaders in Pittsburg Summit few days ago.

The current financial crisis has underpinned the necessity for urgent action on enhancing transparency and effectiveness of the world financial architecture. The mandate, scope and the governance structure of the world financial institutions warrant urgent reform. Its capacity for the surveillance of Irresponsible financial behavior is critical to prevent future crises.   We also support the call for enhanced representation for developing countries in the International Financial Institutions.  The early implementation of the agreements reached at the “High-Level Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development” is a way forward in this regard.

Mr. Chairman,

The full effect of the current financial and economic crisis is yet to fully manifest   in the developing countries, especially in those small and vulnerable economies. To avert further negative consequences, there should be enhanced assistance to these countries. Most small and vulnerable economies like my own, need to accelerate growth, and revenue generation to curb the widening gap in national budgets. What we mostly require is assistance for trade. However, we continue to face constraints in improving market access and increasing the export trade volume. Stringent measures and conditionalities continue to prevail when seeking opportunities for export markets for labour intensive products from developing countries such as agricultural products and textiles. This disturbing trend needs to be redressed through implementing open, rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory trade policies. We reiterate the call for special and differential treatment for developing countries in all areas of WTO negotiations. In this context, we also wish to see an early conclusion of the Doha Trade negotiations, ensuring its development mandate.

Mr. Chairman,

One of the key revenue channels for most of the developing countries are the remittances from migrant workers.  International migration therefore has been an issue of concern with far reaching socio-economic consequences to the migrants as well as to sending and receiving States. International migration, in our view, should be an integral part of international development strategies. We support calls for increased commitment to and compliance with international regimes in protecting and promoting the welfare of migrants including the right to decent work. We endorse the view that migrant remittances, which are private funds, should not be a substitute for ODA.

Mr. Chairman,

For us Sri Lankans that collectively include the Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and Sinhalese, the period ahead is critically important in this post -conflict transitional phase. With the end of the three-decade long scourge of brutal terrorism from our motherland, we have entered into a post-conflict phase, with renewed hopes and aspirations. Sri Lanka appreciates the development assistance that we continue to receive from our development partners and the UN Agencies. Long term reconciliation, economic progress and overall political stability depend on the economic progress made in the North and the East. In order to integrate fully the North and the East and the contributions of its people into the national economy, it is imperative that Sri Lanka receives steady and unhindered development assistance from multilateral and bilateral donors.  “Waddakin Wasantham” programme was established by President Rajapaksa this year to establish a strong and modern economy in the Northern Province.  A similar project to re-awaken the East called “Neganahira Navodaya” is already underway.

Meanwhile, over the years, our national policies have helped us to achieve an average growth rate of 6% amidst the battle against terrorism and relentless vagaries of the external environment. We are now geared to reap our full development potential as one nation, leaving behind past differences.  

Mr. Chairman,

Despite all odds, we are well on track with regard to fulfilling several key IADGs and MDGs targets. Free education facilities, mid-day meals and free text books for students as well as scholarships for needy students have resulted in over 95% primary school enrolment and retention rate, as well as a 95% literacy rate among the youth.  A system of free health services has resulted in high life expectancy, lower child mortality and enhanced maternal care comparable with higher GDP countries.  Given our positive track record in public health, we supported the ECOSOC efforts on enhancing a dialogue on global public health, by hosting a regional conference on “Financing strategies for healthcare” in support of the ECOSOC Annual Ministerial Review process, In March this year, in Colombo. We would continue to extend our support in initiatives on global public health.


Mr. Chairman,

During the Sixty-Fourth Session, we have several key issues on our hands. The forthcoming High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development, the Copenhagen climate change meeting, the 2010 MDG review conference that demand equal commitment and time. We are confident that under your able stewardship, this committee will be able to discuss and agree on important issues relevant to these meetings.

I thank you,

 

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