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21.04.2008 General News

President Kufuor Opens UNCTAD XII

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President John Agyekum Kufuor yesterday opened the 12th Session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XII) in Accra with a call for immediate measures to reverse the dwindling fortunes of Africa in the global trade.

He said the continent's share of export trade fell from 5.5 percent in 1960 to about 2.1 percent in 1995. However, recent improvements in raw commodity prices have helped raised the level to 3.0 percent since 2006.

Africa's share in world service exports, which was 3.4 percent in 1980, the President said, dropped to 2.4 percent in 2006, while Sub-Saharan Africa barely attracted 0.8 percent of global Foreign Direct Investment in 2007. 'Undoubtedly, Africa remains deeply marginalised in the expanding global trade', he added.

President Kufuor underlined the significance of hosting the UNCTAD XII Conference in Africa, a continent whose chequered history has dogged its development efforts for decades and classified among developing nations inhabited by some of the poorest people of the world.

He reminded participants that Africans expected the conference to deliberate on policies and actions within the global community which would help improve conditions on the continent and give it a positive image.

Touching on the theme: 'Addressing the Opportunities and Challenges of Globalisation for Development', he said colonialism, which has often been termed as the first wave of globalisation rather sharply divided the world, with the colonial masters freely exploiting their colonies.

This helped to build the economies of the colonial powers, while it worsened and compromised the development of Africa. The result is a deep-seated psychological and disruptive wounds inflicted on the continent.

'Therefore, at the threshold of this second wave, globalisation must be driven by a high moral imperative to ensure it does not leave in its trail any losers', the President said.

He said the conference must be seen as a unique opportunity to boost the fight against poverty and human dignity and strategies to assist Africa and other developing nations of the world to overcome under-development and reap the benefit of globalisation.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-Moon described the conference as timely and couldn't have come at a crucial time than this when the world is facing food and petroleum crises and the price of staple food has gone up by half over the last six months.

This crisis, if not handled properly, could trigger a surge of other multiple crises - becoming a multidimensional problem affecting economic growth, social progress and even political security around the world, he said.

The reasons for the crisis, according to the UN boss, are many and cannot be solely ascribed, to a simple trade-off between biofuels and agriculture. He said high oil prices have increased production and transport costs, while worldwide food production has been affected this year by droughts and other natural disasters.

Economic growth has also increased consumption, especially in Asia and financial speculation and the prolonged fall of the U.S. dollar may also be factors, he added.

However, it is certain that for the past three years, the world has consumed more food than it produces. Grain stocks are at their lowest in 30 years, a situation that is unsustainable.

'We must take steps, now, to assure the world's food security. The first must be to meet immediate humanitarian needs', and stated that this year, WFP plans to feed 73 million people in 80 countries around the world.

But to do so it requires an additional $755 million just to cover the rising costs of existing programmes. As new demands roll in, the agency expects to ration supplies in many theatres of operation, he said. That is why, in the long-term, we must increase agricultural production'.

There is no reason why Africa can't experience a 'green revolution,' most experts agree, and substantially increase food production. Malawi has already done so. Simply improving market efficiency can have a huge effect. Roughly a third of the world's food shortages, according to the WFP, are the result of bottlenecks in local markets and distribution systems.

He urged the international community to take urgent action to avert larger political and security consequences. And welcomed the World Bank's plan to increase agricultural lending in Africa from $400 million to $800 million in 2009, the first step toward what it calls a 'new deal' for global food policy.

Mr Ki-moon also welcomed as a first step, the United States' offer of $200 million in emergency food aid, as well as the decision by G8 leaders to take up the issues at the upcoming G8 summit in Japan.

Mr Ki-Moon urged the UN to take a lead in coordinating a global response, working with the World Bank and the IMF.  UN agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the UNDP should be at the forefront, alongside WFP, UNICEF and other UN humanitarian agencies.

In connection with this, Mr Ki-moon will immediately establish a high-powered Task Force, comprising eminent experts and leading policy authorities to address this issue. 'Make no mistake: the problem is serious. But let us not be necessarily alarmed. We have a great tool-box. We know what to do. We can muster the resources and the political will. We should consider this not only a short-term problem but a long-term opportunity', he said.

The Brazilian President, Mr Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attested to the fact that the world is faced with food and petroleum crises and asked all to pray for its downward adjustment.

He added that some African countries put their economic expectations in the hands of the developed countries. This is the reason why these African countries, endowed with agriculture are also facing the same food price crises, 'trade is essential but not sufficient'.

He advised all African countries to initiate public investment strategies because it create infrastructure for the availability of millions of jobs.

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