Speech by Ms. Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Vietnam at High-Level Conference on Multilateral Diplomacy in the 21st Century – Recommendations For Viet Nam

Aug 12, 2014

Date: 12 August 2014
Event: High-Level Conference on Multilateral Diplomacy in the 21st Century – Recommendations For Viet Nam
Venue: Sheraton Hotel, Hanoi

His Excellency Mr. Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, Member of Politburo, Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam;
His Excellency Mr. Phạm Bình Minh, Member of Central Communist Party Committee, Deputy Prime Minister of Viet Nam;
His Excellency Mr. Vũ Khoan, Former Deputy Prime Minister of Viet Nam;
His Excellency Mr. Nguyễn Văn Nên, Minister, Head of Government Office;
His Excellency Mr. Trương Đình Tuyển, Former Minister of Trade;

Distinguished delegates from Ministries and provinces;
Colleagues and friends:

Let me start by congratulating the government for organizing this timely conference, as Vietnam embarks on a comprehensive strategy for international integration and aspires to play an even greater role in regional and global cooperation. UNDP is extremely pleased to be part of this important event and it is my privilege to share some thoughts on the topic of multilateral cooperation in the context of the post–2015 Sustainable Development agenda.

In the time allocated to me, I would like to talk about some key development challenges the globalized world is facing today and the role of multilateral cooperation in addressing these global concerns for shared benefits of nations. In doing so, I will refer to the experiences of the Millennium Development Goals and the ongoing deliberations in the United Nations on the post-2015 global development agenda, among other internationally agreed global frameworks.

We are witnessing fundamental shifts globally that are re-defining the traditional approaches to development issues and the role of State in addressing them. The emerging challenges such as inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, diseases and energy security, to name a few, have transcended the boundaries of States and demand cooperation more than ever before.

For the first time in recent history, we are also witnessing emergence of new powers from the South. These emerging economies are driving global economic growth and societal change, a phenomenon often referred to as “the rise of the South”. According to the 2013 UNDP Human Development Report on Rising South, Viet Nam is among 40 countries in the world defining this phenomenon.

At the same time there is change in the distribution of power between State, markets and citizens. Across many global issues, challenges can no longer be understood and tackled exclusively through inter-governmental action, these requires multi-stakeholder approach.  

These trends presents both opportunities and challenges for an increasingly inter-connected world. Challenges such as management of climate change, use of global public goods, and regulation of trade, finance and migration have significant cross-border consequences requiring considerable multilateral coordination and multi-stakeholder cooperation.

Widening inequalities is another global concern. Despite growing median incomes, few countries have avoided a rise in inequality, which has become the real scourge to human development and advancement of states. Disparities in incomes, asset holdings such as land, and unequal access to public services, such as education, health, credit and social protection, are observed not only within states but also across countries and regions.

A new report by UNDP “Humanity Divided – Confronting Inequality in Developing Countries” notes that in the world of plenty, persistent extreme poverty and inequality present a paradox of our times. Economic growth and cooperation coupled with people-centered policies have lifted millions of people out of poverty. These policies continue to bear fruit as more and more countries, including Viet Nam, reach middle-income status. These are positive trends but it is also true that ¾ of the world’s poor now live in Middle Income Countries.

The inclusion of a stand-alone goal on inequality in the current proposal for post 2015 agenda is therefore an important milestone in the on-going discussions in the UN. It serves as recognition that inequalities affect all other development goals by impeding growth, slowing down poverty reduction and contributing to an increase in violence and social and political instability.

Persistent and growing inequalities are exacerbated by challenges of environmental degradation, disasters and climate change that cannot be confined within sovereign borders. Frequent disastrous climatic events and other natural calamities are repeatedly setting back development progress. Viet Nam itself is highly vulnerable to climatic extremes and has felt the enormous human and economic costs of natural disasters. Recent estimates show that economic damage caused by natural disasters in Viet Nam from 2008-2012 amounted to 1.5 percent of GDP.

Terrorism, human trafficking, diseases like H7N9, Ebola, etc; are some other examples of global concerns that no country, however big and rich, can single-handedly resolve.

I firmly believe that addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts of all people and nations within a multilateral cooperation framework that is inclusive of small and big, rich and poor countries. But what is an effective multilateral framework for post 2015 development agenda?

A truly effective multilateral framework is one which recognizes shared global concerns, involves all stakeholders to generate a consensus, develops actions and solutions and monitor their implementation with mutual accountability.

The Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000 by UN Member States have been a great example of such a global framework and global drive for poverty reduction. It recognized shared development concerns following a rights-based approach, created a universal consensus around the need for action, and put forward concrete targets for implementation. As a result of concerted actions across the world, more than 700 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty. More than 2.1 billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources; an estimated 1.1 million deaths from malaria were averted; and 51 million tuberculosis patients were treated successfully.

In this context, Viet Nam’s story is particularly inspiring. Few countries have seen such rapid poverty reduction levels. Viet Nam emerged from a poor rice-importing country into one of the world largest rice-exporting countries. A stronger, more resilient, middle-income Viet Nam stands as a leader in the fight against poverty and, more broadly, the achievement of MDGs. This not only strengthened Viet Nam’s position in the United Nations, but also in other multilateral cooperation mechanisms such as ASEAN and APEC. Viet Nam’s active participation in multilateral cooperation and its MDG experiences also helped the country gain the confidence of international partners to support and solidify its human development gains.

Building on the success of MDGs, at the September 2010 MDG Summit, member states of the United Nations initiated steps towards advancing the development agenda beyond 2015 and are now in the midst of an unprecedented multilateral and multi-stakeholder effort to define new global development agenda through open and inclusive consultations. The significance of the process is not only in its true multilateral character where all UN Member States – big and small – have equal say and stake, but also in involving non-state voices such as civil society, private sector and academia.

Viet Nam has been an active contributor in this global effort through sharing its MDG experiences as well as the unique perspectives of women and men, the youth and the elderly, people with disabilities, private sector companies, ethnic minorities and people living with HIV/AIDS who participated in the country-level post-2015 consultations conducted last year.

The post-2015 agenda is poised to reflect new development challenges inspired by the outcome of Rio+20 – the UN Conference on Sustainable Development – that took place in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. The goal is to agree on a universally accepted development framework that recognizes poverty eradication, combating discrimination and safeguarding our environment at its core and in an integrated manner.  An intensely consultative process has resulted in a proposal for post 2015 agenda comprising of 17 Goals and targets which will be used in producing SG’s synthesis report  for consideration by the 68th session of the UN General Assembly in 2015. A painstaking negotiation process lies ahead of the UN Member States to agree on a universal set of goals with measurable targets.

What lessons these deliberations hold for countries like Viet Nam?

Firstly, success in reaching some of the MDG targets and serious nature of post 2015 conversations taking place in New York and other places underscores the truth that to successfully tackle any of our most  global challenges, the nations of the world will have to invest in shared solutions. No nation can afford to under-estimate the significance of multilateral channels  in an ever-growing number of fields – from trade and commodity pricing to global fight against poverty, disease and hunger; from education and labour standards to migration; and from managing deforestation to addressing climate change and weather extremes. National policies should be increasingly aware of – and in tune with – global norms, standards and patterns in these areas. Viet Nam has made a big step forward in this direction by adopting the international integration strategy that should now permeate sectoral policies and programmes at national and provincial levels .

Secondly, effective multilateral cooperation requires appropriate capacities within countries. Engaging in the evolving regional and global agenda not only requires a well-educated and skilled workforce, including civil servants in capitals and provinces, but also a vibrant domestic private sector whose contributions to growth and development are ultimately crucial. Without investing in people and improving education and training, returns from potential benefits of globalization and global markets – or foreign direct investment – will remain limited. Reaping the benefits of international integration and confronting the challenges of a globalized world starts at home – responsive institutions, empowered people, professional civil servants and an active domestic private sector collectively define a strong and resilient state that is able to prosper and effectively defend its interests in the regional and global arena.

Thirdly, multilateral cooperation should continue to promote further inclusion with a real say of people and shared responsibility of all national stakeholders. Involving civil society, private sector and academia in addressing global concerns can tremendously improve the quality and scale of solutions. Vast body of knowledge and resources resides outside of individual governments, and this potential should be tapped. People to people diplomacy, technical exchanges and even sports can be as powerful in building enduring regional and global partnerships as commercial and trade ties.

In this context, one cannot overlook the issue of global governance. Many institutions and instruments of international governance and multilateral diplomacy were designed for a world very different from today’s. One consequence is that they under-represent the South. Inter-governmental processes could be invigorated by greater participation from the South, which can bring substantial financial, technological and human resources as well as valuable solutions to critical world problems.

It is abundantly clear that a fair and more equal world requires space for diverse voices and a system of public discourse that upholds the principles of universality and inclusion, equal stake and shared responsibility. Multilateral diplomacy and a more transparent and accountable system of global governance are at the heart of this process.

Viet Nam has been an increasingly active member of the global discourse owing to its standing in the UN system, its noteworthy performance in achieving the MDGs, and outward-oriented trade and economic integration strategies. As such, it can continue to play a dynamic role in shaping the post-2015 development agenda. An active, “switched-on” international position and engagement in multilateral instruments that work are poised to be of great benefit to the country.

Through multilateral mechanisms, central and provincial government, civil, professional and mass organizations as well as Vietnamese people can make valuable contributions in addressing global concerns and also help strengthen Viet Nam’s position regionally and globally. Ultimately, these gains will benefit Viet Nam, as it pursues more inclusive and sustainable development and a brighter future for all its people.

Thank you for your attention.