Press Releases

                                                    ECOSOC/6131
                                                                            19 July 2004

    Economic and Social Council Acts on Four Texts, as It Considers Regional Cooperation, Information Technologies, Tobacco

    Members Hold Panel Discussion with Heads of United Nations Regional Commissions

    NEW YORK, 16 July (UN Headquarters) -- Continuing its general segment, the 2004 substantive session of the Economic and Social Council devoted today’s meetings to regional cooperation, adopting a number of related resolutions and decisions and holding a dialogue with the executive secretaries of the United Nations regional commissions. It also addressed the issues of information and communication technologies (ICTs), as well as tobacco or health.

    Adopting a decision submitted by the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), the Council invited Member States, international organizations and regional commissions to take measures to ensure worldwide application of the United Nations Framework Classification for Fossil Energy and Mineral Resources.

    The Council also adopted a decision submitted by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) to endorse the Shanghai Declaration, adopted during ESCAP’s sixtieth session last April. It addressed the theme “Meeting the challenges in an era of globalization by strengthening regional development cooperation”.

    In a resolution on the work of ESCAP, the Council urged the Executive Secretary to pay particular attention when implementing projects to the special needs of socially vulnerable groups and to the gender dimension, as well as to the special needs of least developed countries, landlocked and Pacific island developing States, and countries with economies in transition.

    The Council further adopted a resolution on the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Asian Highway Network, inviting members of ESCAP to become parties to that Agreement.  It took all those actions by consensus.

    Introducing the Secretary-General’s report on regional cooperation in the economic, social and related fields, the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), drew attention to the fact that interaction between the regional commissions and the Council was not entirely satisfactory. The Council’s High-Level Segment and the Coordination and Operational Segment had barely touched on the role of the regional commissions.  It was important, therefore, that the annual one-day discourse with the Council should be an important occasion for dialogue on policy issues.

    Following the introduction of the five regional commissions’ reports, speakers underlined the importance of their work, especially in the area of trade and ICTs, as well as in coordinating regional development efforts. They expressed support for the Secretary-General’s proposal that the Council hold a one-day regional segment during its substantive session, preferably after the High-level Segment.

    China’s representative described regional cooperation as the inevitable choice in the age of globalization, especially in support of development. The international community should render genuine support to the developing countries in terms of financial resources and technologies to enhance their capacities. Only by reversing their continued marginalization and ensuring benefits for all countries could regional cooperation enjoy a brighter future.

    In a panel discussion on “Information technology for development: a regional perspective”, the Council heard from the executive secretaries of the regional commissions. The panellists addressed region-specific issues in creating an information society, Internet governance, the “digital divide” and the activities of the commissions in helping governments formulate ICT strategies. They also talked about preparations for the World Summit on the Information Society to be held in Tunis, Tunisia, in 2005. 

    Speakers in the ensuing dialogue expressed concern about the daily widening digital divide, emphasizing the importance of partnerships to promote ICT as a development tool and advocating increased transfer of technology and assistance to developing countries in that respect. Government ownership of the development of modern technologies, was very important, as was the involvement of communities and the general population. There was also concern about the prevalence of the English language in e-commerce, as it could preclude participation by non-English speaking populations.

    The Council also considered the report on the work of the Ad Hoc Inter-Agency Task Force on Tobacco, introduced by Douglas Bettcher, World Health Organization (WHO), speaking in his capacity as Coordinator of the Framework Convention Team, Tobacco-Free Initiative. Speakers emphasized that the WHO Convention on Tobacco Control, with 167 WHO member States and the European Community as signatories, constituted a powerful tool for tobacco control. An aggressive and continuous information campaign, targeted pricing measures and far-reaching legislation were needed to limit the marketing and use of tobacco.

    The representative of Bangladesh said that spending by the poor on tobacco products had an extremely high opportunity cost. A study performed in Bangladesh had shown that almost 10.5 million people could be saved from malnutrition if low-income households would switch their tobacco spending to food.  Moreover, farmers were also negatively affected due to the low price of raw tobacco.

    In other business, the representative of Ghana introduced a draft decision  -– contained in document E/2004/L.19 -- by which the Council would take note of requests to enlarge the membership of the Executive Committee of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

    Introducing the reports of the regional commissions were their respective Executive Secretaries: Mervat Tallawy, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA); Brigita Schmognerova, Economic Commission for Europe (ECE); Hak-Su Kim, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); Jose Luis Machinea, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); and K.Y. Amoako, Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

    The Council heard statements by representatives of the Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union), Belarus, Republic of Korea, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Russian Federation, Guatemala, Ukraine, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Mexico and Iceland.

    The Economic and Social Council will continue its general segment at 10 a.m. on Monday, 19 July.

    Background

    The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was expected to take up the issue of regional cooperation today and to consider several draft proposals. Before it was the Secretary-General’s report on regional cooperation in the economic, social and related fields (document E/2004/15), which provides updates on two cross-cutting issues relating to the regional commissions: mainstreaming the regional dimension in the work of the United Nations; and enhancing the coherence of the Organization’s activities at the regional level in accordance with the guidance contained in annex III to Council resolution 1998/46.

    Also contained in the document is a report by the executive secretaries of the regional commissions according which states that, at their five meetings during the period under review, they exchanged views on global issues and on the activities of their commissions, as well as the regional dimensions of the work of the United Nations. As regional outposts of the Organization, the commissions are engaged in multisectoral activities for regional development and cooperation. They conduct policy-oriented research and advise Member States; provide technical cooperation and training for capacity-building; organize forums; and compile economic and social statistics.

    The report notes that the role of the commissions in regional follow-up to world conferences and summits has further reinforced their work on indicators and benchmarking, which is aimed at establishing links between the commitments agreed upon at global events and monitoring their implementation at the regional level.  The commissions are also well placed to design, in cooperation with other partners, a system for monitoring the regional dimensions of the Millennium Development Goals. Their work in that regard should complement the activities of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs in global monitoring and those of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Development Group in national monitoring.

    Having reviewed recent measures by the Executive Committee on Economic and Social Affairs to involve the regional commissions more closely in the central policy work of the Secretariat, the report says, the executive secretaries agreed that there should be an improved two-way flow of information between the global programmes, departments and offices and the regional commissions.  Moreover, the commissions should be more closely involved in preparing the Secretary-General’s reports to global bodies. The thematic groups originally established by the Executive Committee in connection with the preparation of the programme budget for 2004-2005 should remain active in support of that objective.  Cooperation and joint work should be clearly reflected in the work programme and budget of each regional commission, as well as the departments and offices concerned.

    At the intergovernmental level, both the executive secretaries and the Secretary-General suggest that the Economic and Social Council should consider the regional cooperation item at a one-day separate segment on regional cooperation. The documents also recommend the holding of yearly informal meetings at Headquarters to brief member delegations on the commissions’ socio-economic policies, perspectives and outlooks in their respective regions. That initiative would also encourage a more effective two-way flow of information and substantive exchange, including on the findings of economic surveys, thereby eliminating the need for their simultaneous launching at Headquarters.

    Summaries of the economic surveys of the five regions are provided for the Council’s consideration in documents E/2004/16-20. The resolutions and decisions adopted by the regional commissions during the spring of 2004 that require action by the Council or are brought to its attention are contained in document E/2004/15/Add.1.

    According to the documents before the Council, as the regional presence of the United Nations system grows, there is an increasing need to bring more coherence to operational activities at the regional level in order to enhance their impact. The Millennium Development Goals can readily serve as a framework for collaborative work in the regions. Within that framework, it is possible to agree upon a few priority areas for collective action, develop partnerships and establish the division of labour and lead roles of all players. The expertise of the commissions, as well as their special focus on cross-border and subregional issues, including border crossings, trade facilitation and such projects as the water-energy nexus in Central Asia or the Mano River initiative in Africa, calls for the integration of the regional and subregional dimensions of United Nations activities.

    The initial commissions’ experience in organizing regional coordination meetings has led to significant initiatives with respect to United Nations activities at the regional level, the reports note, stressing the need to establish closer links between regional structures of the Organization’s funds and programmes and the respective regional commissions. The strategic compact between the regional commissions and the UNDP (July 2000) is noted as an important first step in that regard.

    The reports before the Council not only provide detailed information on the regional commissions’ activities, but also explore the theme for the regional cooperation item at the Council’s 2004 substantive session: “Information technology for development: a regional perspective”. According to the Secretary-General’s report on regional cooperation, a growing concern among the developing countries is that while the world is increasingly becoming globalized, significant gaps persist in all regions, between and within countries, regarding levels of progress in information and communication technologies (ICT) development.  The world’s poor could be even more marginalized in a knowledge-based globalized economy.

    Of the 25 countries listed as having “high access” in the 2003 ITU Digital Access Index (DAI), none is from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), or the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) regions. Of the 55 countries listed as having “low access”, 38 are African, 10 Asian or Pacific, three from the ECLAC region, and two each from Central Asia and the ESCWA region.  Even within countries, the “digital divide” is considerable, especially due to the large concentration of people still trapped in illiteracy or rudimentary education. Some 46 million children in South and East Asia are still not enrolled in primary school -- 11 years away from the deadline set in the Millennium Development Goals.  In sub-Saharan Africa, the primary school enrolment in 2001 was less than 60 per cent.

    In response to those challenges, all the commissions have been increasingly engaged in mainstreaming ICT, the reports state. The ECA, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and ESCWA have established specific sub-programmes devoted to developing ICT, as well as improving access to services and their effective use. In developing its programmes, the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) has taken advantage of its established expertise in trade, transport and trade facilitation, as well as regional norms and standards setting. In ECLAC, ICT activities are pursued under the “Productive, technological and business development” programme. In addition to providing important inputs to the Geneva phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, declarations adopted at the high-level regional meetings provided blueprints for action in various regions and for addressing the central information society issues.

    Dialogue with Executive Secretaries of Regional Commissions on Information Technology for Development

    The panel included Brigita Schmognerova, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE); Hak-Su Kim, Executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); Jose Luis Machinea, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); K.Y. Amoako, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA); and Mervat Tallawy, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

    JAGDISH KOONJUL (Mauritius), Council Vice-President, introduced the subject, saying that while information technology was not a complete solution for development, it could contribute in a very unique and influential manner, creating a window of opportunity for developing countries. The ICT had become a key factor for higher productivity and growth and could play a crucial role in national development strategies. The main problem related to the developing countries’ lack of access to ICTs and the digital divide between the industrialized and developing nations. The United Nations regional commissions could serve as focal points for the efforts to address those problems.

    RONALDO MOTA SARDENBERG (Brazil), who moderated the event, then introduced the documents before the Council and said that the development of modern technology presented great opportunities to countries in a globalized world.  The subject of today’s discussion was particularly important for the countries of the South, and the regional commissions had a significant role to play in coordinating regional efforts to promote the use of ICTs.  They could also participate in the preparations for the forthcoming conference on the ICT in Tunisia. 

    Emphasizing the importance of promoting developing countries’ access to modern technology, he said the digital divide had an impact at all levels and should, therefore, be addressed at the national, regional and international levels. It was necessary to raise awareness of the opportunities presented by modern technology and to focus international efforts on the search for innovative solutions to the digital divide.

    The regional commissions should use their respective expertise and advantages to promote the use of ICT, he continued. Among the interesting initiatives with global implications was the development of a low-cost computer in Brazil and Chile with the participation of private companies. The African Information Society Initiative represented a positive approach to the issue, which could assist the countries involved in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Several connectivity solutions had been suggested in Western Asia.

    Ms. SCHMOGNEROVA, ECE Executive Secretary, said the Commission focused on the assessment of countries in the region that were in different stages of transition. It did not have a separate programme for ICT, but was working in different areas to facilitate e-business, develop standards in electronic trade documents, and examine transport technology. 

    She said that economies in Europe were increasingly based on information and knowledge, adding that transformation to a knowledge-based economy was one of the greatest challenges in the region. The transition process must be driven by government strategies in cooperation with other stakeholders, such as the private sector and non-governmental organizations. The transformation process was a complex issue, involving ICT infrastructure, linkages between the generation, dissemination and application of knowledge, regulatory frameworks, and investments.  The European Union had adopted a target to invest 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) into research and development by 2010.

    Efficient policies must be formulated to prevent a further broadening of the digital divide, she said.  Governments must increase investments in ICT and education, and ensure that the benefits of the information society were available to all. There was a need for combined efforts by government and the business sector to make equipment available to the poor, who were at the greatest disadvantage in terms of inclusion in the information society.

    Mr. KIM, ESCAP Executive Secretary, said the Commission was concerned mostly with so-called “ICT-poor” countries, including the least developed countries and developing countries. It had established an ICT sub-programme in 2002, which provided advisory services to developing countries and helped them to formulate their policies on the application of modern technologies. Recently, ESCAP had hosted an event on e-commerce and was also involved in efforts to develop space technology applications.

    The Commission was also working closely with the Government of Japan, which had recently proposed an Asian broad-band initiative, he continued. An information technology training centre was being contemplated in the Republic of Korea. Laudable examples in the area of distance learning included Australia’s project in the Pacific and Nepal’s use of radio-based education.

    Mr. MACHINEA, ECLAC Executive Secretary, said the Commission’s thirtieth session two weeks ago in Puerto Rico was dedicated to promoting the information society and sought to foster the development of national, subregional and regional strategies, with a special focus on social inclusion and cohesion. The ECLAC provided technical assistance at the local and national levels, facilitated the creation and implementation of a coherent strategy at the regional level, and cooperated with colleagues from other regions at the interregional level.

    He said that designing national information society strategies was complex, and ECLAC member countries were focusing on the challenge of institutionalizing that new topic in three stages: designing a strategy; formulating of public policies at the operational level; and implementation and monitoring. The ECLAC was also working on a regional action plan to fulfil an intermediate function between national particularities and global requirements outlined at the World Summit on the Information Society.

    Among ECLAC’s global information society activities, he said, were the development and operation of the Observatory for the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean (OSILAC). Together with the Institute for Connectivity in the Americans (ICA), OSILAC was compiling ICT indicators for the region and working to standardize indicators across the region. Between September and December, the regional commissions would organize workshops to discuss global requirements and specific regional features as they related to ICT statistics.

    Mr. AMOAKO, ECA Executive Secretary, said the African Information Society Initiative had been born out of concern that the technological revolution would bypass Africa. It focused on creating partnerships, democratizing access to modern technology and promoting its use in rural areas. Its key components included infrastructure development and the creation of opportunities for connection with the Internet. The Commission was trying to show countries that ICT was not a luxury, but a means of achieving the Millennium Development Goals and, as such, must be accorded high priority. South-South cooperation was also stressed within the framework of the initiative.

    Among the main challenges, he said, were the need to educate the population, create human resources and provide content in local languages. Information technology education at the school level was now being introduced in 31 countries. Efforts were also being made to involve higher education institutions, promote information sharing and exchange experiences. Public-private partnerships would be critical, he said.

    Ms. TALLAWY, ESCWA Executive Secretary, said that Internet governance revolved around control and supervision of the global network, which had become a critical resource for socio-economic development. The ESCWA had conducted a prudent analysis of the situation and arrived at a recommended strategy in a paper submitted to the Global Forum on Internet Governance, organized by the ICT Task-Force in New York last March.

    She said “fairness” and “efficiency” had emerged as the main points of criticism of the current system of Internet Governance. The ESCWA proposed giving high priority to the issue of “fairness”.  After fair representation was achieved, the “Internet Charter” could be agreed upon. Enhancing efficiency without ensuring proper representation would not guarantee fair management or sustainable efficiency. The regional commissions could act as regional catalysts by playing a capacity-building role to empower all stakeholders within a fair representation strategy.

    Interactive Dialogue

    Speakers in the ensuing debate expressed support for the regional commissions’ focus on ICT, saying that the digital divide contributed to the deepening of the general gap between the developed and developing worlds. “Africa may have missed the bus for development, but it should not miss the opportunities presented by the Internet revolution”, one country representative said, stressing the need to provide financing for improving access by developing countries to new technologies and to develop Internet content in local languages.

    “Given the pace of revolutionary changes in the field of ICT, the digital divide widens every day”, another delegate said, emphasizing the imperative of concerted international action to address that problem.

    Speakers also emphasized the importance of creating partnerships to promote ICT as a tool for development and advocated increased transfer of technology and assistance to developing countries in that respect. Several participants in the debate expressed high hopes for the forthcoming meeting on the information society to be held in Tunisia, saying it should build on the results of the first World Summit on Information Society, which had considerably raised awareness of the issues related to bridging the digital divide.  Panellists explained actions taken in preparation for the Tunis Summit.

    It was noted that while mostly negative terms, like ”gap, divide, threat and exclusion”, were routinely used in connection with the development of ICT, those technologies also held great promise. By facilitating the transfer of knowledge and skills, ICT presented great opportunities for developing countries. Government ownership of the development of modern technologies was key for success, as was the involvement of communities and the general population. 

    The information technology industry could generate income, create jobs and contribute to the economic growth of a country, speakers noted. In many societies, it was giving a new meaning to the term “empowerment”. Unable to solve the problems of poverty and underdevelopment on its own, new technologies could enable a country to take advantage of emerging opportunities.

    Among the measures to mobilize financing and arrange financial assistance for the development and use of ICT, speakers suggested the use of regional development banks and funds, as well as the introduction of new financial machinery with the help of the regional commissions. The role of the donors was of great importance, as was that of the private sector and civil society, including major information technology companies and non-governmental organizations.

    Joint efforts by governments and the private sector were needed for the development of e-commerce standards, a panellist said. E-facilitation of cross-border activities was another area where various actors could make a contribution. Concerns were raised about the prevalence of English in e-commerce, which could prevent participation by non-English-speaking populations.

    “To have a computer is one thing, but to put it to use is another”, a speaker said, stressing the importance of developing the required skills and increasing education levels.  A culture of computer-usage was needed.  In that connection, a panellist said that, in many cases, it was the question of the cost, the policy and the availability of inexpensive computers and free software. It was pointed out that several regional commissions had been organizing seminars and working with governments to provide access to the Internet for school children, but it was also important to increase the use of computers at home.  That issue was related to the availability of skilled people in the workplace later on.

    Another panellist said that such financial institutions as the Council of European Banks and the European Investment Bank had been investing in human capital and promoting education and the transfer of knowledge-based technology. The regional commissions should strive to increase such participation by various financial institutions.

    Addressing the issue of Internet governance, a speaker expressed concern over the negative impact of some Internet content on the younger generation and raised questions about the role of the international community in setting standards.

    Introduction of Draft Decision

    At the outset of the afternoon meeting, MAVIS KUSORGBOR (Ghana) introduced a draft decision -– co-sponsored by Ghana and Romania -- contained in document E/2004/L.19, by which the Council would take note of requests to enlarge the membership of the Executive Committee of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  If implemented, the membership of the Executive Committee would increase from 66 to 68 States, as Romania and Ghana had applied for membership. Since the Committee’s establishment, its membership had been enlarged continuously, reflecting the interest of Member States in the work of the agency and the refugee problems.

    The Council would take action on the text next week.

    Introduction of Secretary-General’s Report

    Ms. TALLAWY, Executive Secretary of ESCWA, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on regional cooperation in the economic, social and related fields (document E/2004/15), saying that its two addenda contained resolutions and decisions emanating from recent ministerial sessions of the Commission. The summaries of economic and social surveys provided the necessary backdrop for considering development issues in various regions and their interrelationship with the global economy. In view of the lead role of the commissions for regional follow-up of the major conferences and summits in the economic and social areas, all commissions had strengthened their cooperation with various United Nations entities, as well as with other regional organizations and civil society. The ever-growing collaboration among the regional commissions should also be noted.

    She said that in recent years, there seemed to be ample ground to surmise that those interactions had not been entirely satisfactory. The Council’s High-Level Segment and Coordination and Operational Segment had barely touched on the role of the regional commissions, and it was, therefore, important that the annual one-day discourse with the Council should be an important occasion for dialogue on policy issues. The report had advanced three specific recommendations to enhance interactions between the commissions and the Council.

    Reports of Executive Secretaries of Regional Commissions

    Ms. SCHMOGNEROVA, Executive Secretary of ECE, said that linkages between regionalism and multilateralism were important in trade. Preference was generally given to multilateral trade arrangements, while regionalism was a second option. However, regionalism had played an important role in the development of the ECE’s regional trade arrangements, such as the European Union. The European Union had developed a web of bilateral agreements with non-European Union member States, starting with countries with economies in transition. Those arrangements had turned out to be beneficial for both sides, and trade had accelerated by more than 300 per cent.  It was not easy to prove whether there had also been negative effects, as different factors also played a role.

    Stressing that the ECE region was very heterogeneous, she said subregional and regional cooperation played a preparatory role in accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). There had been some negative implications in countries lacking coordination in the accession process. It was important to develop a better relationship between the regional commissions and the Council, and the ECE supported the Secretary-General’s recommendation that the Council consider placing its regional segment immediately after the High-Level Segment.

    Mr. KIM, Executive Secretary of ESCAP, said 2003 had been characterized by strong economic growth and low inflation in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite robust economic growth, however, poverty remained a major problem, and many countries could fall well short of the Millennium Development Goal of halving the level of poverty by 2015.  In support of efforts by ESCAP members to achieve the millennium targets, the Commission was undertaking coordination and capacity-building efforts and engaging in policy and best practices analysis.  Its projects in support of the Millennium Development Goals had led to the publication of the first-ever regional progress report in 2003. In 2004-2005, the Commission planned to broaden its efforts to create synergies with relevant international agencies and Member States for the achievement of the Millennium Goals and facilitate understanding of key policies and options. 

    The sixtieth session of the Commission, held in Shanghai last April, had identified the key challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region and future action to overcome them, he said. It was important to further accelerate regional integration and economic cooperation, and one priority was the regional implementation of the outcomes of recent conferences, including Johannesburg and Monterrey. The forthcoming ministerial regional conference would contribute to the goal of achieving coherence and consistency in implementing the Monterrey Consensus. 

    The Commission intended to continue its search for new avenues of cooperation with development partners and further strengthen collaboration with Member States, he said. For example, ESCAP and the Asian Development Bank had drawn up a new time-bound memorandum of understanding.

    Mr. MACHINEA, Executive Secretary of ECLAC, said that 40 per cent of the region’s population lived in poverty, adding that this year’s figure was the highest in the past six years. A productive development policy was needed, as was guaranteed protection of the poor.

    Noting that 60 per cent of trade in the region was based on free-trade agreements, he said that interregional trade had diminished within the context of such agreements as the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR).

    One of ECLAC’s most important activities had been to develop a methodological platform, making it possible to support countries in their follow-up to world summits from a regional perspective and in the framework of the Millennium Declaration. The ECLAC had prepared a unified system of indicators to evaluate plans of action coming out of various world conferences. It had also prepared for the forthcoming meeting on small island developing States. He also drew attention to cooperation between ECLAC and other regional commissions.

    Mr. AMOAKO, Executive Secretary of ECA, said the situation in Africa had improved somewhat, but in terms of meeting the Millennium Development Goals, it faced the greatest challenge. The ECA had been monitoring progress and had assisted policy makers in advancing the economic agenda. Unlocking Africa’s potential in the global economy was a challenge, but it was critical to obtaining resources for development. The recent Ministerial Conference in Uganda had focused on market access and domestic constraints.

    He said that a related issue was regional economic integration.  With the African Union and NEPAD, an integration mechanism was now in place. African countries had less than 10 per cent of all trade, mostly with Europe and the United States, and there was a need for greater competitiveness. The ECA was collaborating with the African Union to ensure the basis for a strategic agenda for African integration into the world economy.

    The continent also faced many other challenges, he continued.  Good governance was an important issue for the African Union and NEPAD. The HIV/AIDS issue was a tremendous and critical challenge, and the Commission had released a detailed analysis of the impact of HIV/AIDS on the economy, institutions and governance, among other things.

    HÉLÈNE BAKKER (Netherlands), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the regional commissions could contribute to the review of progress made in the implementation and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits. They could also act as helpful regional focal points for monitoring progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development goals and targets.

    She said the role of ICTs in fostering development had become more generally recognized.  The European Union was aware of the digital divide and welcomed the Secretary-General’s report, which advocated more mainstreaming of ICTs in development efforts. The United Nations and its regional commissions should continue to stimulate the debate on e-strategies. Aware of the opportunities offered by ICTs, the European Union was mainstreaming those technologies in its various development programmes and projects.

    Ms. TALLAWY, Executive Secretary of ESCWA, said that cooperation and development in Western Asia had been gravely affected by the situation in Iraq and Palestine. Economic growth in that particular area was low, even stagnant, and unemployment was high. A little over half of the population in the Arab world now lived on less than $2 a day. Social conditions were certainly poorer in Iraq and the occupied Palestinian territories in terms of the rising number of people disabled due to conflict.  The attainment of the Millennium Development Goals was thus in question for a number of the countries in that region. 

    Despite that economic situation, there had been States in the region that had made efforts to join the WTO, and ESCWA was helping them with the application process, she said. A number of regional agreements had been concluded to promote cooperation and integration, especially in trade. The ESCWA had facilitated work on several agreements, which aimed to increase connectivity among countries.  Preparations were under way on the regional Beijing+10 and Cairo+10 conferences, as well as a forum on the reconstruction of Palestine, once peace prevailed there. The ESCWA had also initiated a number of initiatives to assist countries emerging from conflict.

    ULADZIMIR GERUS (Belarus) said it was hard to overestimate the importance of regional cooperation in promoting economic and social development and achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Reform of the commissions should be carried out carefully to avoid reducing important areas of work, including building up human resources, capacity-building, the development of ICT and the information society. The development of transportation and communication was also important areas for regional cooperation.

    He said that given the differences between the regions in application of ICTs, the regional commissions must step up their efforts to bridge the digital divide, for instance, through the coordination of system-wide regional initiatives and of regional and subregional partnership programmes.

    Given the increase in European Union membership, there was a need to clarify the role of ECE, he said. The reformed Commission must create conditions for expanded trade between European Union and non-European Union countries. Belarus was doing its best to develop constructive regional cooperation, including in the area of ICTs, and was preparing regional electronic programmes for development in Eastern Europe. During the Geneva World Summit on the Information Society, Belarus had proposed a trust fund to compensate software producers exporting products to developing countries at reduced prices.

    SHIN KAK-SOO (Republic of Korea) said the regional commission system should continue to strengthen its central role of coordinating economic, social and environmental issues. Coordination should be undertaken with the regional offices of United Nations specialized agencies to avoid duplication and to generate synergy.

    Applauding the successful conclusion of the sixtieth session of ESCAP in Shanghai last April, he noted that the developing countries in the ESCAP region had experienced strong, broad-based growth in 2003, growing faster than the global economy and other groups of developing countries. However, despite growth in the region as a whole, poverty continued to persist in many countries due to an inequitable distribution of the benefits of growth.  Pro-poor policies and economic growth were needed to reduce poverty, and the Republic of Korea had initiated the Regional Rural Poverty Alleviation Programme in that regard.

    ZHANG YISHAN (China) said regional cooperation was the inevitable choice in the age of globalization, adding that common development was an urgent task for regional cooperation.  The international community should render genuine support to the developing countries in terms of financial resources and technologies to enhance their capacity to keep pace with the globalization process and reinforce their confidence and status in regional cooperation.  Only by reversing the continued marginalization of some developing countries and ensuring benefits for all countries could regional cooperation enjoy a brighter future.

    He said China had always attached importance to its cooperation with ESCAP, and had hosted its sixtieth session in Shanghai from 22 to 28 April. The Shanghai Declaration had been adopted by consensus, as were seven resolutions, including one on strengthening regional efforts in public health.

    HUSNIYYA MAMMADOVA (Azerbaijan), noting that her country attached great importance to regional cooperation, listed several regional projects, which promoted regional integration, including the construction of an oil pipeline in the Caspian area and the creation of a regional transportation transit network.

    Recognizing the importance of cooperation in the field of ICT for developing countries and countries with economies in transition, she underlined her country’s adoption of a national ICT strategy for development, which had been recognized as a best practice that could be emulated by other countries. At the operational level, the regional commissions should contribute to the distribution of best practices and the creation of data transmission networks. Of particular importance to Azerbaijan was a Special Programme for Countries with Economies in Transition (SPECA), which had been jointly initiated by the ECE and ESCAP.  The development of transportation networks, particularly for the landlocked countries, as well as harmonization and simplification of border and customs procedures, were also of great importance. 

    LUIS GALLEGOS CHIRIBOGA (Ecuador) said regional cooperation should be based on elements that could help strengthen the consistency of management and coordination.  Those elements were potential instruments to help integrate countries into the world economy. Geographic proximity was becoming an important pillar in international trade.

    There was no one single cause of underdevelopment, he said, urging the regional commissions to better understand the diversity and specific needs of their respective regions, which would allow them to go beyond a one-size-fits-all vision.  Relations between the commissions and regional institutions should be strengthened. Several subregional processes in Latin America involving trade, customs and health standards had the potential to become regionalized.

    VLADISLAV FEDORCHENKO (Russian Federation) said that his country favoured the continuation of regional coordination meetings among the top executives and supported the Secretary-General’s recommendation regarding the strengthening of the leading role of regional commissions in coordinating the implementation of international conferences and summits. However, their activities should not exceed their mandates and the role endorsed by the Member States.

    Technical assistance was an intrinsic part of their work, he said, adding that greater coordination of operational activities in that regard was needed at the regional, subregional and international levels. In considering information technologies for development -- the main topic for the regional cooperation segment this year -- the role of the ICT Task Force must be noted in the creation of a global network of working groups and nodes, including the Moscow regional node.

    As a member of both the ECE and ESCAP, Russia noted their work to promote development in countries with economies in transition, he said. The ECE was facing particular challenges because of the new geopolitical challenges in Europe, and one of its strategic goals should be to prevent the appearance of new dividing lines in the region. Russia was also interested in “capping” ESCAP’s capacity to strengthen economic cooperation and environmental protection in its region, particularly in the areas of Primorye and the Far East. Among the main priorities there were the development of ICTs, the creation of sustainable transportation corridors, and global marketing of the natural resources of Siberia and the Far East.

    GERT ROSENTHAL (Guatemala) said it was not that long ago that cooperation and coordination between the executive secretariats of the regional commissions and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, not to mention the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), had been quite tenuous. The situation had improved considerably since the modes of coordination had been set up in the reform process initiated by the Secretary-General. The progress in coordination between the Council and each of the commissions had been slower, due, at least in part, to the fact that the dialogue with the executive secretaries had been pressed by time constraints, with few opportunities for interactive engagement and without the focus that would anchor the substantive sessions. For those reasons, Guatemala welcomed the suggestion to consider cooperation with the regional commissions in a separate one-day segment. Within the broader concern on how to strengthen and revitalize the Council, it had within its means a very concrete proposal that would comply with that purpose, at least in one of the areas under its responsibility.

    Mr. ONISCHENKO (Ukraine) said that supporting countries with economies in transition in their efforts to integrate into the European economic space should become a priority task of ECE’s activities. It should also support their efforts in ICT and e-commerce development.  Considering the enormous power of ICTs for socio-economic development, it was essential that opportunities to access it be given to all those who had been unable to participate fully in the knowledge-based digital economy.  But access to ICT had not been equitable.  The use of technology and access to it varied greatly among and within countries, between urban and rural areas, and between the educated and the illiterate.

    He said the Commission should play an important role in promoting the efficient use of ICT for development, particularly in trade facilitation and education; assisting governments in developing practical approaches for Internet governance and financing of ICT for development; assessing accessibility to ICTs, with the aim of creating equitable opportunities for the growth in ICT sectors of countries with economies in transition; and providing a forum for dialogue between various stakeholders interested in the development of the knowledge-based economy.

    Mr. AMAN (Indonesia) said that his country continued to attach particular importance to the strategic role of the regional commissions as facilitators of efforts by Member States to implement and follow up on the outcomes of major conferences and summits in the economic and social fields, with special emphasis on the Millennium Development Goals. The incorporation of regional perspectives into the wide-ranging issues engaging the attention of the United Nations merited serious consideration and action. It was important to channel the Organization’s efforts into policies that could be turned into concrete realities, and in that respect, there was a need to enhance cooperation and coordination among the regional commissions and other regional and international organizations.

    Poverty eradication, debt relief, trade, financing for development, ICT and sustainable development should be among the priorities, he continued. ESCAP’s Subcommittee on Poverty Reduction Practices should continue its work in building the capacity of the Commission’s members to design and implement better pro-poor policies and strategies for poverty reduction.

    While recognizing the strategic value of global partnerships in various development objectives, one should not discount the importance of South-South cooperation, he said.  That should be undertaken to complement global efforts and not with the intention of substituting those efforts, which were of paramount importance to developing countries.

    Mr. SUNUGA (Japan) said the regional commissions should be involved in tackling the challenges of their respective regions.  Their activities should be appraised in the context of all the activities of ECOSOC as the review of implementation of the Millennium Development Goals approached. The Council should evaluate and coordinate the commissions’ work.  However, Japan was not sure whether it was necessary to create a new segment to review their activities in the Council’s substantive session as proposed in the Secretary-General’s report. Among the commissions’ practices that should be emulated was the role they had played preparing for the twelfth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development.

    Action

    As the Economic and Social Council took action on a series of draft decisions and resolutions contained in the Secretary-General’s report on regional cooperation in the economic, social and related fields (documents E/2004/15/Add.1 and Add.2), the Council was informed that action on recommendations contained in its second addendum would be postponed until next week.

    The Council then adopted, by consensus, a draft decision from the ECE concerning the “United Nations Framework Classification for Fossil Energy and Mineral Resources”.

    Next, it adopted, without a vote, a text from ESCAP on the Shanghai Declaration. That text was entitled “Work of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in implementing its technical cooperation projects”.

    Third, the Council adopted, by consensus, a resolution on “Intergovernmental Agreement on the Asian Highway Network”.

    Mr. KOONJUL (Mauritius), Council Vice-President, then reminded members that one of the proposals made to the Council concerned the holding of a one-day meeting with the executive secretaries of the regional commissions, in conjunction with the Council’s high-level segment. The dialogue would enable the participation of the executive secretaries in the high-level segment and bring in the regional dimension. That proposal had found wide acceptance within the bureau and among the wider membership. The Council, therefore, suggested the incorporation of the proposal into the draft programme of work for the 2005 session.

    DOUGLAS BETTCHER, World Health Organization (WHO), speaking in his capacity as Coordinator of the Framework Convention Team on the Tobacco-Free Initiative, said tobacco represented a multifaceted problem that affected a large number of sectors, including health, finance, customs, trade, environment, agriculture and industry. As the tobacco epidemic was reinforced through global marketing, trade liberalization and increased smuggling, tobacco control could only be effective if carried out in multisectoral collaboration between different sectors of governments and intergovernmental agencies. The United Nations Ad Hoc Inter-agency Task Force provided the best platform to strengthen that collaboration.

    Providing an update on the status of WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, he said the treaty had been closed for signature on 29 June 2004, with 167 WHO member States and the European Community as signatories.  The treaty, which would enter into force 90 days after the deposit of the fortieth instrument of ratification, currently had 24 States parties. In preparation for the first session of the Conference of Parties, the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Convention had met from 21 to 25 June to consider and prepare proposals on issues identified in the Convention for consideration and adoption.

    KOEN DAVIDSE (Netherlands), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that the report before the Council demonstrated the complexity of the issues of concern to the Chief Executives Board in the field of programming and with regard to ensuring inter-agency coordination and coherent guidance to the United Nations system. Also of great importance was the Board’s role in coordinating a system-wide approach to implementing the outcome of the upcoming Triennial Comprehensive Policy Review. The Board was expected to be actively engaged in shaping a system-wide contribution to the first comprehensive review of the Millennium Development Goals in 2005.

    The system was keeping pace with the intergovernmental monitoring of Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, he said. The setting up of the United Nations Water, United Nations Energy, United Nations Oceans and the focus on sustainable consumption and production represented ample evidence that the Johannesburg Plan and the multi-year work programme of the Commission on Sustainable Development had led to action.

    SARAH ROTICH-MATTHEWS (Kenya) said the Secretary-General’s report presented the grim reality of tobacco consumption and its effects on the wealth, health and economic well-being of smokers and their families. Moreover, tobacco consumption constituted a serious threat to achievement of the Millennium Goals and sustainable development, through its impact on communities and nations. Therefore, tobacco control should be included in both national and global policies.

    At the global level, the WHO’s Convention on Tobacco Control constituted a powerful tool for tobacco control, she said.  As a party to the Convention, Kenya looked forward to its entry into force and urged as many governments as possible to ratify it.  The country had also co-sponsored the draft resolution on that issue.

    CLAUDIA VELASCO OSORIO (Mexico) said her country supported the gender mainstreaming goals established by the Secretary-General in all United Nations operational policies, strategies and programmes. Mexico also recognized the valuable work that had been done, on a continuous basis, by the various bodies of the system. The priority now should be to strengthen the sectoral aspects of the question, treating gender mainstreaming as a cross-cutting issue. There should be better preparation and training to foster access for women to decision-making positions.

    At the national level, Mexico had actively incorporated gender mainstreaming in its efforts to deepen democracy, transparency and accountability, and for the achievement of sustainable development throughout the country. The inclusion of gender issues was a priority of the Government, which had prepared projects addressing such issues as migrant workers, the rights of indigenous peoples, women’s groups, prevention of cervical and uterine cancer, reproductive rights and the strengthening of productive projects for women.

    SHIN BOO-NAM (Republic of Korea), speaking on the ICT Task Force, said the report illustrated that the digital divide was shifting to sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and small island nations in the Pacific, regions that were already struggling under the weight of a myriad development challenges. The focus of ITC development efforts must, therefore, shift to those regions in need. All stakeholders, including the United Nations, must devote more time and resources to addressing that emerging technological gap.

    He said increased utilization of ICT incorporated into the development of rural infrastructure could provide farmers with the most current information on prices, practices and access to markets. ICT growth depended on sensible economic policies, suppression of corruption, as well as the fostering of a sound institutional environment conducive to investment in ICT for development. The Task Force should concentrate on activities in which it had a record of success -- including building multi-stakeholder partnerships, and linking ICT with internationally agreed development goals.

    Among its many practical applications, ICT was important as an aid to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, he said.  In the area of education,  ICT-enhanced distance training could help increase the supply of teachers, for instance.  However, in the same way that good governance was a prerequisite for development, sound Internet governance was essential to deepening and solidifying the spread of ICT to the developing world.

    HJALMAR W. HANNESON (Iceland) said an aggressive and continuous information campaign was essential for tobacco prevention, as were targeted price measures and far-reaching legislation limiting its marketing and use. A complete ban on direct and indirect tobacco advertising was an essential component of such legislation.

    Iceland had been among the first countries to ban tobacco advertising in 1971, he said.  In 1984, it had introduced severe restrictions on its sale and on smoking. Those and other measures had had a clear impact on tobacco consumption, as tobacco sales had fallen by 42.5 per cent from 1984 to 2001. Along with falling consumption, a health dividend had also appeared, as the frequency of lung cancer had fallen steadily.

    KONDKHER MOHAMMAD TALHA (Bangladesh) said that the escalation in tobacco use was a major health and development concern today and the adoption of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control had generated the right momentum for the agenda.  The international community had demonstrated its commitment to the cause while, at the same time, national governments were devising and implementing comprehensive tobacco-control measures.

    The worst affected, developing countries were facing a dual burden in the tobacco epidemic, he said.  Tobacco consumption had severe consequences for poor families, and health-care costs were especially heavy for them.  Spending by the poor on tobacco products had had an extremely high opportunity cost. A study performed in Bangladesh showed that almost 10.5 million people could be saved from malnutrition if low-income households would switch their tobacco spending to food.  Moreover, due to the low price of raw tobacco, farmers were often unable to repay their loans.

    Bangladesh had been the first least developed country to sign the Convention, he said, adding that the country’s national anti-tobacco campaign had effectively started in the late 1980s, with civil society taking the lead role. Strong political commitment was needed at the national, regional and international levels for a coordinated and comprehensive response to the challenges presented by the tobacco epidemic.

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