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    Background Release    Press Release No: UNIS/ECOSOC/797
    Release Date: 30 June 2000
    Economic and Social Council to Hold 2000 Session
    At Headquarters, 5 July – 1 August

    Theme for High-level Segment, 5-7 July,
    Role of Information Technology in Global Economy

    NEW YORK, 28 June (UN Headquarters) -- The Economic and Social Council begins its 2000 substantive session at Headquarters on Wednesday, 5 July, at 9:30 a.m.  The annual session, held alternately in Geneva and New York, is scheduled to end on 1 August.

    The theme of this year’s high-level segment, scheduled for 5 to 7 July, is "Development and international cooperation in the twenty-first century:  the role of information technology in the context of a knowledge-based global economy".

    The Council was established as a principal organ of the United Nations by Article 7 of the Charter.  It generally holds one five-week substantive session each year, alternating between New York and Geneva.  Each session includes a high-level special meeting, attended by ministers and other senior government officials, to discuss major economic and social issues.  The year-round work of the Council is carried out in its subsidiary bodies, commissions and committees, which meet at regular intervals and report back to the Council.

    The main functions of the Council are:  to serve as the central forum for discussing international economic and social issues, and for formulating policy recommendations addressed to Member States and to the United Nations; to make or initiate studies and reports and make recommendations on international economic, social, cultural, educational, health and related matters; to promote respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms; to call international conferences and prepare draft conventions for submission to the General Assembly; to coordinate the activities of the specialized agencies, through consultations with and recommendations to them, and through recommendations to the Assembly and Member States; and to consult with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in matters of concern to the Council. 

    At this year’s opening session on 5 July, in addition to ministers and heads of delegation of both the Council's member countries and observers States, participants will include Presidents and Director Generals of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), World Trade Organization (WTO), the heads of the main United Nations funds, programmes and specialized agencies and representatives of NGOs and the media.

    The opening statement will be made by the Council President, Makarim Wibisono (Indonesia), followed by a video presentation on information and communication technology (ICT) and development.  That will be followed by addresses from Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette, and Secretary of the Treasury of the United States Lawrence H. Summers.  A high-level policy dialogue with the international financial and trade organizations will then take place, with the participation of James Wolfenson, President of the World Bank, Mike Moore, Director-General of the WTO, and Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD.

    At 10:15 a.m., the President of the Council and the Deputy Secretary-General will also open an unprecedented ICT public exhibit, which will be staged concurrently with the high-level Council meeting.  The exhibit will bring together educational displays by private sector firms from all over the globe, international agencies and governments.  

    During the high-level segment of the 2000 session, a number of ministerial round-table breakfasts and luncheons, hosted by both the private sector and the Council, will be held to provide forums for brief presentations by and discussions among representatives of civil society, the private sector, and agencies and bodies of the United Nations.  Presenters during these segments will include, among others, Jose Maria Figueres Olsen, Chairman of the Foundation for Sustainable Development and former President of Costa Rica, and Olli-Pekka Heinon, Minister for Transport and Communications of Finland.

    Issues that will be discussed during the breakfast and luncheon segments will include: e-commerce; knowledge sharing; investment and finance; e-governance; info-ethics; connectivity and infrastructure; tele-medicine; intellectual property; human capital development; and the environmental dimension.

    In the plenary of the high-level segment, the schedule includes:  a panel discussion with senior representatives from regional development banks; another panel discussion with UNCTAD and the regional commissions; presentations by ICT exhibitors; several keynote addresses, including statements by Alpa Oumar Konare, President of Mali, and notable private sector chief executive officers; general discussions on the main theme; and statements by ministers and high officials.

    During the high-level segment, the participants will also have before them a report of Secretary-General Kofi Annan (not yet issued) on the main theme.  In that report, he stresses that ICT can play an important part in accelerating growth, eradicating poverty and promoting sustainable development in both developing countries and those with transition economies, while facilitating their beneficial integration into the global economy.  

    The Secretary-General notes, however, that, at the same time, the experience of the developed countries shows that indiscriminate investment in ICT can lead to large-scale waste.  For developing and transition-economy countries to benefit from the lessons of this experience and avoid "misinvestment" and capture benefits, appropriate institutional arrangements need to be put in place.  These opportunities and risks call for urgent and concerted actions at national and international levels.  The United Nations has an obligation to promote such actions.  To this end, there is need for a comprehensive programme of action to be carried out through global ICT partnerships and the mobilization of the required resources.

    The Secretary-General then goes on to outline a number of recommendations that he considers key elements in any programme of action.  At the national level, he states that there is a need to galvanize the necessary political will at the highest level if there is to be a concerted effort to tap into the digital capacity for development.  National ICT development strategies must be devised with established priorities based on national development goals.  The necessary resources for ICT development must also be mobilized just as the necessary investment in human resource development, basic infrastructure and required institutions must be made.  Knowledge available elsewhere must be acquired, while the creation of knowledge locally must be supported.

    In addressing the role of the United Nations, international cooperation and support, the Secretary-General states that global leadership must be provided at the highest level.  The necessary resources to bridge the digital divide must be mobilized, as well.  Access and connectivity for all, especially in the developing countries, must be promoted, while best practice and experience, particularly in the context of South-South cooperation, must be shared.  Help must also be given in the promotion of institutional arrangements that can help countries make discriminate investment in ICT, so as to avoid "misinvestment" and maximize benefits.

    Regarding the Council and the United Nations system, the Secretary-General states that the Organization must address ICT issues at the highest level and mobilize and commit the necessary resources.  He recommends the adoption of a coherent ICT strategy and strengthening collaboration within the United Nations system.  He encourages synergistic and result-oriented action, as well as coordinated responses to new challenges.  The Secretary-General stresses integrating ICT as a key component of all development cooperation activities and urges the update of ICT capacity at the United Nations.  He also calls for a digital compact between the Organization's system, the private sector, NGOs, as well as other stakeholders.  

    Participants will also have before them a report of the high-level panel of experts on ICT, which met in New York from 17 to 20 April, transmitted by a note from the Secretary-General (document A/55/75-E/2000/55).  The report confirms an ongoing revolution in ICT.  For example, an estimated 276 million persons worldwide were users of the Internet as of March, with a growth rate of roughly 150,000 persons per day.  Business conducted over the Internet is projected to explode from $45 billion in 1998 to over $7 trillion by 2004. 

    Yet, notes the report, rapid growth and earnings figures reflect activity by less than 5 per cent of the world’s population.  Therefore, while ICT is contributing to economic and social development, a strategic programme for the use of ICT in development must be developed based on the premise that knowledge is different from other production factors in that it expands when applied.  Further, since knowledge cannot be distributed by political decisions, but needs to be nurtured, the challenge in a knowledge-based economy is not scarcity, but inadequate diffusion and use.  Meeting the challenge requires cooperation between all sectors of national society and at the international level. 

    Those conclusions are based on a summary of ICT experience considered by a panel of representatives from all regions of the world.  Presentations made to the panel are outlined in an annex.  They include national and regional experience in Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Estonia, Ghana, India, Mali, Mauritius, Morocco, Russian Federation, the Small Island Development States Network (SIDSNET), and e-Europe, a collaborative involving the European Commission, its member States and industry.  Other presentations address technology constraints, Internet management, the World Bank’s InfoDev and multimedia approaches.  The report urges the development and launch of an international ICT action plan at the Millennium Assembly.  Such a plan should focus on the role of the United Nations in promoting ICT for development through strategic alliances with the private sector, financing trusts and foundations.

    With the conclusion of the high-level segment on 7 July, the Council will take up segments on coordination (10, 11, 12 July), operational activities (13, 14, 17, 18 July), humanitarian affairs (19, 20, 21 July) and general (21-28 July).  During the operational activities segment, a high-level meeting will also be held.  Also, a number of panel discussions will be held on various themes, including:  the “five-year reviews of the conferences of the 1990s –- lessons learned”; the “main challenges currently facing the United Nations system for supporting conference implementation”; and “celebrating 50 years of United Nations development cooperation”.

    A number of round table and general discussions will also take place.  On 31 July and 1 August, the Council is expected to take action on various draft proposals and conclude the work of its substantive session.

    Current membership of the Council is 54 with geographical distribution as follows:  14 members from African States; 11 from Asian States; six from Eastern European States; 10 from Latin American and Caribbean States; and 13 from Western European and Other States.  Eighteen members of the Council are elected each year to serve three-year terms of office, beginning on 1 January and ending on 31 December.

    The current 54 members of the Council with their expiration dates are: Algeria (2000), Burkina Faso (2002), Angola (2002), Benin (2002), Cameroon (2002), Comoros (2000), Democratic Republic of the Congo (2001), Guinea-Bissau (2001), Lesotho (2000), Mauritius (2000), Morocco (2001), Rwanda (2001), Sierra Leone (2000), Sudan (2002), Bahrain (2002), China (2001), Fiji (2002), India (2000), Indonesia (2001), Japan (2002), Oman (2000), Pakistan (2000), Saudi Arabia (2001), Syria (2001), Viet Nam (2000), Belarus (2000), Bulgaria (2001), Croatia (2002), Poland (2000), Russian Federation (2001), Czech Republic (2001), Bolivia (2001), Brazil (2000), Costa Rica (2002), Colombia (2000), Cuba ( 2002), Honduras (2001), Mexico ( 2002), Saint Lucia (2000), Suriname (2002), Venezuela (2001), Austria (2002), Belgium (2000), Canada (2001), Denmark (2001), France (2002), Germany (2002), Greece (2002), Italy (2000), New Zealand (2000), Norway (2001), Portugal (2002), United Kingdom (2001) and the United States (2000).

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