Speakers Critical of Criteria for Graduation to Middle-Income Status, as Second Committee Takes Up Globalization, Interdependence

| October 14, 2017

Middle-income countries had initially reaped globalization’s benefits, but were now suffering from the so-called “megatrends” of labour market shifts, rapid technological advances and climate change, speakers said today as the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) took up globalization and interdependence.

Countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) had witnessed globalization both as an impetus to growth and threat to survival, said the representative of Barbados, speaking on the group’s behalf.  Small island States contributed little to climate change but were most vulnerable to its impacts, as underscored by destruction wrought in recent hurricanes.  Making it difficult for CARICOM members to rebuild following a disaster was their inability to access concessional financing, he said, as many were middle-income countries.  It was “unthinkable” that States reduced to abject poverty within hours due to a hurricane were barred from accessing funding needed to rebuild, forcing them to borrow at market rates.

Similarly, the representative of Maldives said graduating from least developed status to middle-income had failed to protect it from exogenous shocks or equip the country with additional instruments to bounce back.  Graduation meant the country was no longer eligible for official development assistance (ODA), concessional financing or export markets.  Just six days after the General Assembly graduated the Maldives, in December 2004, the Indian Ocean Tsunami hit the country, he said.  The damage it caused after just a few minutes came to more than 62 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).  The short- and long-term financial and economic impact on the Maldives took years to recover.

El Salvador’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), also expressed concern over graduation criteria for countries eligible to receive ODA and trade benefits.  Those criteria, based on a skewed approach to development, which only used per capital income of countries to measure development, failed to reflect deep inequalities in his region.  He stressed the importance of implementing multidimensional methodologies Governments had agreed on to measure a country’s level of development and define adequate criteria to allocate ODA.  Those methodologies must go beyond per capita income in a balanced and integrated fashion, recognizing diverse needs and challenges of each country in CELAC.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s reports were Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Liu Zhenmin, on fulfilling the promise of globalization: advancing sustainable development in an interconnected world (document A/72/301); United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Director of Technology and Logistics, Shamika Sirimanne, on science, technology and innovation for development (document A/72/257); and Department of Economic and Social Affairs Senior Economic Affairs Officer, Dawn Holland, on development cooperation with middle-income countries (document A/72/329).

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) New York Liaison Office Director, Marie Paule Roudil, introduced the report of the UNESCO Director-General on culture and sustainable development (document A/72/336).

Also speaking were the representatives of Ecuador (for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Singapore (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Bangladesh (for the Group of Least Developed Countries), Armenia (for the Like-minded Group of Supporters of Middle-Income Countries), India, China, Philippines, Belarus, Cuba, Guatemala, South Africa, Chile, Namibia, Honduras, Iraq, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Botswana, Thailand, Rwanda, Nepal and Ukraine.  Representatives from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) as well as the Holy See also spoke.

During an afternoon session, the Second Committee took up information and communications technologies (ICT) for development, with speakers highlighting the continuing digital divide and need for international investment in capacity‑building and improved Internet access, especially in developing countries.

Noting that more than half the world’s population was still offline, Ms. Sirimanne, said 84 per cent of the population had Internet connectivity in Europe, as opposed to only 18 per cent in Africa.  Introducing the Secretary-General’s report on progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society at the regional and international levels (document A/72/64), she added that International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates had shown that women were 12 per cent less likely to use the Internet globally, compared to 25 per cent in Africa.

Speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, Ecuador’s delegate emphasized the need to bridge the digital divide between countries as well as between men and women.  There were 90 mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 people in developed countries as compared to 41 in developing countries and less than 20 in the least developed States.  Such figures were cause for concern, he added, calling for international cooperation in improving affordability, capacity-building, multilingualism, investment and appropriate financing.

The representative of India said ICT had tremendous power to change lives, while noting that the digital divide could expand existing inequalities.  His country was implementing a range of programmes focused on empowering vulnerable sections of the population and those living in remote areas.  E-services on offer included tele-education, tele-medicine and agricultural information services that provided crop prices, weather forecasts and new farming techniques.

Also speaking were the representatives of Thailand (for ASEAN), Trinidad and Tobago (for CARICOM), Bangladesh (for the Group of Least Developed Countries), Maldives (for the Alliance of Small Island States), Philippines, Singapore, Iran, Cuba, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Kenya, Nepal, China, Togo, Brazil, Mexico, Bahrain, Vanuatu, South Africa, Russian Federation, Nigeria and Ethiopia.  Representative of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) also spoke.

The Committee will meet again on Monday, 16 October, at 10 a.m. to take up agriculture development, food security and nutrition.

Introduction of Reports

LIU ZHENMIN, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on fulfilling the promise of globalization: advancing sustainable development in an interconnected world (document A/72/301).  He noted that globalization had exerted a significant influence on global wealth and sustainable development, but came with challenges and risks, often caused by imbalances in the distribution of benefits and costs.  To ensure that globalization supported inclusive economic growth, it was essential to analyse the current system as well as emerging trends to devise policy solutions addressing them.  Three large and sustained global shifts with wide impact and the power to shape the future — so-called “megatrends” — were impacting globalization.  First, global shifts in production had spurred deep changes in labour markets in both developed and developing countries.  Second, the rapid advance of technological change had made knowledge and information exchange using information and communications technology (ICT) and networks increasingly important.  Finally, a growing body of evidence pointed to globalization as a contributing factor to climate change and environmental degradation.

SHAMIKA SIRIMANNE, Director of the Technology and Logistics Division, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), introduced the Secretary-General’s report on science, technology and innovation for development (document A/72/257).  She said the report analysed the technological megatrends of the fourth industrial revolution and illustrated the benefits, such as enhanced early warning systems, big data to monitor disease outbreaks, improvements to farming conditions, artificial intelligence (AI) for diagnosing cancer, mobile payment systems to improve financial services and more.  Despite those benefits, she cautioned that technology could exacerbate existing economic and social divides, particularly in the labour and employment sectors.  The Commission on Science and Technology for Development examined how science, technology and innovation could achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including through food security and smart cities.  Throughout multi-stakeholder consultations, States agreed that greater assessment would be necessary to evaluate the development potential of new and emerging technology.  UNCTAD would continue that work while addressing concerns about the gender dimension of development, financing for innovation, and regional and international cooperation.  She highlighted collaboration with China in furthering training and seminars for innovative technologies, and encouraged other States to join in similar efforts.  Capacity-building would be essential in supporting the deployment of technology and innovation.  To that end, the Conference would continue to develop a broadened framework of policy reviews that integrated the Sustainable Development Goals into science, technology and innovation policymaking and implementation.

MARIE PAULE ROUDIL, Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Liaison Office in New York, introduced the report of the UNESCO Director-General on culture and sustainable development (document A/72/336).  She stressed that the international community could not achieve its goals of sustainable cities, quality education, economic growth, sustainable consumption and production as well as environmental sustainability and inclusive, peaceful societies without integrating culture into development policies.  Cultural and creative industries were among the most dynamic sectors in the world economy, generating $2.25 billion in revenue and 29.5 million jobs worldwide.  Member States had invested in the field, embraced the potential of digital technologies and forged new partnerships with United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), high-level experts, academia, the private sector and civil society.  Safeguarding cultural heritage and promoting the diversity of cultural expression, while fostering values and behaviours reflecting non-violence and building tolerance played an instrumental role in the social cohesion of societies and peacebuilding.

DAWN HOLLAND, Senior Economic Affairs Officer in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), introduced the Secretary-General’s report on development cooperation with middle-income countries (document A/72/329).  Noting that those countries faced significant challenges to development, including high inequality, issues relating to the environment and consequences from climate change, she said national efforts should be enhanced through improved and more focused cooperation.  Economic growth in those States slowed noticeably since 2011 and many may be caught in a “middle-income trap” resulting in a protracted period of subdued growth rates.  Public debt increased from 2015 to 2017 as stagnating or contracting output in major economies and lower commodity revenues led to higher fiscal deficits.  Since the global financial crisis, there had been a decline in labour productivity growth, which undermined national efforts for sustainable development.  If that trend continued, 6.5 per cent of the world’s population would still live in extreme poverty by 2030.  Policy options to address those challenges included more proactive fiscal policy measures, strategies to diversify production, support to innovation and improved trade and foreign direct investment (FDI).  Country classifications based solely on per capita income, she continued, did not effectively reflect the complex nature of development challenges, thus comprehensive strategies should refer to a broader set of multidimensional measures of economic, social and environmental progress.  Adequate provision of development finance would also remain crucial.

Questions and Answers

The representative of Nigeria asked whether mechanisms were in place to ensure that the benefits of globalization were more evenly distributed, so that economic growth could be translated into lifting households out of poverty.  He also questioned how the United Nations system was prepared to help developing countries catch up with rapid technological development and effectively use science and technology to improve employment, trade and sustainable development.  In addition, he asked what strategies were put in place to improve their capacities in monitoring progress of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

A representative of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs said the 2030 Agenda itself noted that many issues of development were related to globalization, science and technology.  Benefits from those areas began at the national level by putting in place appropriate policy and legal frameworks.  The United Nations was actively involved in that process, engaging with Governments to develop them.  Globally, there was increased recognition that a more sustained dialogue on globalization’s benefits as driven by science and technology was needed.

Ms. SIRIMANNE added that the United Nations was engaged in policy discussions with Governments, in both developed and developing countries.  Sustainable development ministries were involved, but they tended to be lower down and such discussions could not occur in isolation.  Discussions were focused on science and technology as well as education to prepare for emerging technology.

Ms. ROUDIL, noting that engineering and science were part of the UNESCO mandate, said engineering was becoming a top priority.  Her organization had launched a specific initiative to support development of education in engineering, especially for women and girls at both secondary and higher levels of education.

Statements

HENRY JONATHAN VIERA SALAZAR (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the 2015 intergovernmental agreements had laid the frameworks for engaging on economic, social and environmental issues in a balanced, equitable and sustainable manner.  “This is not the time to question what was agreed but time for implementation”, he said.  The fast pace of globalization had been facilitated by the rapid developments in ICT.  Technology transfer and diffusion on concessional and preferential terms from developed countries were needed to address the adverse impacts of climate change and development of developing countries.  Those issues could be addressed with coordinated and coherent action at the global level, he said, mentioning the 2030 Agenda in that regard. 

He said the United Nations was the only global body to strengthen international cooperation for promoting development in the context of globalization and for the implementation of the internationally agreed development goals.  The Organization should promote greater coordination with relevant international financial and economic institutions to ensure coherence with the United Nations development agenda.  He reiterated the urgent need to ensure that the diverse development needs of middle-income countries were appropriately addressed, as 73 per cent of the world’s poor lived in those States.  To cope with inequality at the country level, he said there was a need to put job creation at the centre of economic policies.

JOSEPH TEO CHOON HENG (Singapore) spoke on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and aligned himself with the Group of 77.  He expressed concern that isolationist and protectionist voices were gaining force, while noting that complex global challenges, such as terrorism, cybersecurity, pandemics and climate change required global solutions.  Multilateralism was critical in addressing those threats, he stated.  His region’s commitment to community-building processes was demonstrated in economic, political-security and sociocultural areas.  Efforts were undertaken to cooperate with external partners on the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025.  The United Nations, together with international organizations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), must ensure that the global economic framework remained conducive for sustained and inclusive economic growth, particularly in developing countries.  In that regard, he said ASEAN valued continued partnerships to secure conditions for peaceful and sustainable economic development.  The ASEAN-United Nations Plan of Action for 2016‑2020 and the annual regional dialogue would prove to be important platforms for exchanging insights and best practices.  He also welcomed the support of the Organization in efforts to narrow the development gap.

SHANCHITA HAQUE (Bangladesh), speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries and associating herself with the Group of 77, said there were significant science, technology and innovation gaps between the least developed nations and the rest of the world.  Noting inequalities in patent filing and the number of scientific articles published by the least developed countries, she highlighted obstacles related to limited data and low spending on research and technology.  She said those countries were isolated from global research networks and lacked the technical expertise and skills necessary to contribute in research and development initiatives, which were often contingent on the availability of and access to technology.

Stressing that technology could contribute to sustainable development, including the eradication of poverty, she recalled efforts by States to contribute to the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries.  She urged other States and donors to contribute to that fund, and to enhance public investment in research and development while improving coordination at all levels.  In that regard, she called for greater public‑private partnerships and support from the international community, particularly through a robust framework for technology transfer, knowledge sharing and official development assistance (ODA).

HECTOR ENRIQUE JAIME CALDERÓN (El Salvador), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said technology transfer, capacity-building and dissemination of innovations and knowledge were important drivers of development and economic growth, which could significantly reduce the existing technology gap between and within countries.  However, he expressed concern with the current graduation criteria for the list of countries eligible to receive ODA and trade benefits applied by various international organizations. Those criteria, based on a skewed approach to development, which only used per capital income of countries to measure development, did not reflect the integrated character of sustainable development or existing deep inequalities in his region.

ODA was still required in the CELAC region to reduce inequality and structural gaps as well as generate and strengthen its capacity to achieve sustainable development, he said.  In that regard, he called for developed countries to fulfil their commitment to allocate 0.7 per cent of gross national income (GNI) to ODA and for international organizations to address the diverse and specific development needs of CELAC countries.  He stressed the need and importance of implementing multidimensional methodologies agreed on between Governments to measure a country’s level of development and define adequate criteria to allocate ODA.  Those methodologies must go beyond per capita income in a balanced and integrated fashion, recognizing diverse needs and challenges of each and every country in Latin America and the Caribbean.

MHER MARGARYAN (Armenia), speaking on behalf of the Like-minded Group of Supporters of Middle-Income Countries, said his Group had adopted a ministerial declaration regarding the unique challenges faced by middle-income nations and said the classification of developing States should be redefined.  Advancing towards criteria that went beyond per capita income was key to understanding the challenges that such countries faced.  He said a whole category of States were left behind from coordinated assistance and urged that the United Nations elaborate a comprehensive strategy aimed at facilitating sustainable development with those countries.  He called for an open dialogue for innovative approaches that encouraged “graduation” policies which were sequenced, phased, and gradual and resulted in tailored solutions.  In that regard, he welcomed the call to build on the experience of the Committee for Development Policy, but expressed concern that access to concessional finance reduced countries’ income growth. 

He stressed the importance of addressing structural gaps and stated that improvements in macroeconomic indicators did not reflect an improvement in efforts to eradicate poverty, given that inequality remained pervasive in countries with high economic growth.  Targeted and differentiated strategies in cooperation for development were needed and he called for assistance to overcome the effects of climate change.  The quadrennial comprehensive policy review would present an opportunity to transform the development system and build capacity to address development challenges of middle-income countries.  The needs of those countries must be addressed in a comprehensive manner, including through enhanced technological assistance.

KEITH HAMILTON LLEWELLYN MARSHALL (Barbados) spoke on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and associated himself with the Group of 77 and the Alliance of Small Island States.  He said CARICOM members experienced in varying degrees the impact of globalization: both impetus to growth and challenges to their very survival.  The “megatrends” disproportionally affected small island developing States and underscored the need for restructuring the mode of interaction of the international community with those vulnerable States.  The destruction wrought by recent hurricanes underscored that small island States contributed little to climate change but were most vulnerable to its impacts.  Now was not the time to renege on commitments made in the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, but to redouble efforts to prevent further degradation of the environment.

RENUKA CHOWDHURY (India) said the rising power of digital technologies and social media was transforming the way Governments and businesses worked.  The global economic and financial integration had, on occasion, led to dramatic collapses.  Emerging areas such as cybersecurity and global geospatial information management had cross-cutting impacts.  More, not less, effective multilateralism was needed, therefore, to manage opportunities and challenges faced collectively.  The realization of the interdependence and the collective nature of peace, prosperity and security for all had been reflected in the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.  Their implementation would lead to a better future for all.  India continued to play its part in strengthening the multilateral successes on addressing climate change and meeting sustainable development challenges, including through South-South cooperation.

TANG TIANXI (China) said globalization had promoted an increased flow of goods and economic growth, but had also produced governance dilemmas and inequalities.  Countries should strengthen cooperation in response to globalization’s challenges in producing more balanced results.  They must also embrace innovative concepts for development, promote structural reform and create new jobs.  The international community should remain an open world economy through interconnectivity and investments in trade, opposing all forms of protectionism.  It was necessary to reform international trade rules, with each country enjoying equal rights and opportunities.  Emerging markets in developing countries should have increased representation and a stronger voice in the international trading system.  China had benefited from globalization, as evidenced by its rapid economic growth.  Looking ahead, the country was willing to work with all parties in bringing in a new industrial and digital revolution.

MARIA ANGELA PONCE (Philippines), associating herself with ASEAN, the Like-minded Group of Supporters of Middle-Income Countries and the Group of 77, said her nation was among the 109 middle-income States with specific challenges and diversified income, growth drivers and governance structures.  While the Philippines had achieved high growth, poverty and inequality were also high, and underemployment was a problem.  In supporting recognition of a middle-income countries category within the United Nations, “we do not seek to take away resources from other groups of countries”, she said, but rather sought to create positive synergies for developing States.  Recognizing the low level of innovation in the Philippines, the national development plan increased science, technology and innovation use in agriculture, industry and services, and also ensured that culture was built into policy formulation.

TAMARA KHARASHUN (Belarus), associating herself with the Like-minded Group of Supporters of Middle-Income Countries, said the problems facing those States could only be solved through the exchange of best practices, strengthened coordination and targeted support from the development system.  So far, work on addressing the needs of middle-income States was ad hoc and lacked a unified approach to provide comprehensive support, which differed from others categories of developing countries.  She highlighted the outcomes of a ministerial meeting on that issue, and expressed hope that a resolution would be adopted to outline a long-term strategy of support to middle-income countries.  That resolution, she continued, should address the classification of States, as income alone would not adequately reflect the needs of middle-income countries.  The World Bank’s criteria for loan allocation often showed a “rosy picture” which did not reflect reality.  In response to those challenges, she called for improved indicators on economic and social progress.

JUAN MIGUEL GONZÁLEZ PEÑA (Cuba), associating himself with the Group of 77 and CARICOM, said a transparent, open, non-discriminatory and inclusive multilateral system, maximizing benefits of globalization while minimizing its costs, was imperative for implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Globalization under neoliberal precepts, however, exacerbated existing inequalities and the North‑South development gap continued to grow.  Underscoring the need for a New International Economic Order, he advocated a multidimensional, more comprehensive and complete methodology for classifying the level of development, particularly for middle‑income countries.  That methodology should go beyond gross national product (GNP) and levels of per capita income while considering their characteristics and special challenges.  While struggling under the criminal blockade by the United States, his country had shown important achievement in development, he said.

DAVID MULET LIND (Guatemala) associated himself with the Group of 77, CELAC and the Like-minded Group of Supporters of Middle-Income Countries.  He said the criteria and categorization of States based on per capita income and economic growth did reflect the challenges faced by middle-income countries.  In that regard, he called for greater support to the multidimensional measurement for poverty and development.  One-third of global gross domestic product (GDP) and 73 per cent of people living in poverty worldwide were living in those countries, he stated.  Thus, the international community must create a more fair and accountable development system.  He stressed the urgency of such work, and called for increased action to reform the international system.  To that end, he would welcome a resolution for middle-income countries.

Ms. RABOHALE (South Africa) said existing levels of inequality were not only morally unacceptable but economically, politically and socially detrimental.  There was a growing debate about whether globalization and new technologies had exacerbated or improved the situation, especially in developing countries.  She expressed concern about dwindling international cooperation in supporting developing States which depended on developed countries honouring their global commitments.  A prominent feature of globalization was science, technology and innovation, but greater strides were needed to bridge the technological gap between the global North and South.  She called for the international community to promote the development, transfer, dissemination and diffusion of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries on favourable terms.  Globalization had allowed for significant economic growth for many countries and had lifted millions out of poverty, but had simultaneously contributed to immense inequality between and among States.  That was particularly relevant for so-called “middle-income countries”, where the majority of the world’s poor now resided.

PATRICIO AGUIRRE VACCHIERI (Chile), associating himself with Group of 77, CELAC and the Like-minded Group of Supporters of Middle-Income Countries, called for an adjustment of the classification of countries based solely on per capita income, as it was contradictory with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda.  A solely economic approach without other dimensions of development would not allow for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, he stated.  Graduation from classifications should not be taken solely by the crossing of an income line without considering other variables.  He expressed support to the draft resolution on middle-income countries, and said the text would have a clear mandate with multidimensional criteria to support all Member States.  He expressed hope that the United Nations development system would enhance monitoring for countries that had moved to higher levels of development, and called on the donor community to enhance focus and support.

ELTON KHOETAGE HOESEB (Namibia) said his country had benefited from globalization and positive growth over many years, but was also heavily affected by the global economic slowdown and supposedly low growth in large neighbouring economies.  Externally, it had to contend with the impact of the commodity price crash.  Simultaneously, climate change brought severe drought over the past three years, affecting the agricultural sector as well as wet industries and the construction supply chain.  Liquidity came under pressure due to weak market confidence and consequently a tight cash flow situation.  He cautioned against the arbitrary classification of countries based on income alone, which was the current approach developed by international financial institutions and adopted by the United Nations.  That had caused Namibia, like other upper middle-income nations, to be unfairly deprived of access to concessional funding essential for development.

YOLANNIE CERRATO (Honduras) associated herself with the Group of 77, CELAC and the Like-minded Group of Supporters of Middle-Income Countries.  Stressing that reduction or elimination of poverty was a global strategic imperative, she called for a multidimensional approach to address those challenges.  The classification of countries based on income or GDP per capita differed with the complex economic and social reality, she said.  The current classification by income did not allow for the necessary priorities or resources for development, and incorrectly presupposed that middle-income countries overcame levels of poverty and inequality.  Thus, she urged for criteria that looked beyond income and addressed the special needs of individual countries.  Efforts should include open dialogue on innovative approaches to the graduation policy which should be set sequentially and gradually.  To that end, she welcomed efforts to adopt a resolution which would address the needs of middle-income countries.

Mr. SAFAH (Iraq), associating himself with the Group of 77, said the dangerous aggression from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) led to the destruction of building his country’s capacity, and that the country further suffered from decreased oil prices.  Science, technology and innovation could play a crucial role in development and allowed countries to gain capacity from innovations in economic, social and environmental areas and technology transfer.  He noted the importance of UNESCO and highlighted a 2005 agreement on cultural diversification to which his country acceded.  He said that the international community did not address the difference between development and cultural polices at the international level.  Noting that ISIL had destroyed a 1,000‑year‑old civilization in Iraq, he commended the support given by the General Assembly and called on the international community to provide greater development assistance to rebuild his country’s infrastructure and protect its cultural heritage.  To that end, he urged all countries who were party to UNESCO to honour their commitments, and enhance efforts to prevent conflict and combat terrorism.

ALI NASEER MOHAMED (Maldives), associating himself with the Group of 77, said the middle-income category was a paradox, with some of the largest and most diversified economies in the world and some of the smallest in terms of GDP, relying on just one or two industries.  The Maldives was among the first to graduate from least developed status to middle-income, but that did not protect it from exogenous shocks or equip the country with any additional instruments to bounce back from them.  When a small island State, with a small and extremely dependent economy, with just one or two industries was graduated from least developed countries category, the country became more vulnerable.  That was because with graduation the country was no longer eligible for ODA and had no access to concessional financing or export markets.  Those challenges made newly graduated small economies more vulnerable than they were in the least developed category.  Just six days after the General Assembly graduated the Maldives in December 2004, the Indian Ocean Tsunami hit the country.  The damage it caused in just a few minutes was more than 62 per cent of the country’s GDP.  The short- and long-term financial and economic impact on the Maldives took several years to recover, which was what a natural hazard would do to a small economy.

ROLANDO CASTRO CORDOBA (Costa Rica) associated himself with the Group of 77, CELAC and the Like-minded Group of Supporters of Middle-Income Countries.  He said the international community must revisit criteria for the reclassification of countries and their access to resources.  Sustainable development reports, analyses of structural gaps and the global poverty index were all important in that regard, but greater efforts would be needed to create adequate indicators and evaluate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.  He said the international community must recognize the complex realities of different countries, and called for open dialogues on the innovative and multidimensional approaches for development.  He said that broadening the international community’s vision would entail creating more focused and efficient solutions that addressed the specific needs of each country.  He also noted the challenges presented by climate change and natural hazards, stating that the international community must be prepared to address new and emerging challenges.  He urged for greater international cooperation in strengthening the multidimensional vision for development in relation to the reform efforts of the Secretary-General.  He also stressed the importance of fostering global partnerships, transferring technology and knowledge, broadening access to ODA and data sharing.

LEULESEGED TADESE ABEBE (Ethiopia) noted that globalization had contributed to global poverty reduction and economic growth, but its benefits had clearly not been shared by all.  Hence, popular discontent, driven by rising inequality and loss of jobs, had brought an enormous stress on multilateralism and governance institutions.  In making globalization deliver for all, the United Nations had a critical role in supporting countries to better cope with its risks and in assisting States and other stakeholders find global solutions respecting national diversity.  National efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda should be complemented by a fair and development-friendly international economic and financial architecture, giving more voice to developing countries.  International cooperation was also essential in addressing the widening technological divide through technology transfer and capacity-building to support efforts of developing countries.

TLHALEFO BATSILE MADISA (Botswana), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that as 73 per cent of the world’s poorest and 70 per cent of the world’s population lived in middle-income countries, they deserved special consideration.  Such countries faced a mammoth task in sustaining the gains from previous decades against the rising costs of living, food and energy and decline in commodity prices, among other things.  Many had experienced economic deceleration or even recession in recent years.  United Nations development cooperation with middle-income countries should therefore be strengthened, he said, subscribing to the notion that country classification based on per capita income criteria was deficient.

PUNNAPA PARDUNGYOTEE (Thailand) said globalization had brought numerous benefits and opportunities, with countries becoming more interconnected, economies prospering and new technologies and innovations being introduced.  However, it had also resulted in numerous challenges, such as an imbalanced distribution of wealth, socioeconomic inequality and more challenging employment opportunities due to the production and labour market shift, rapidly changing technological advancement and digital divides as well as climate change.  Middle-income countries had benefited from globalization, but now faced socioeconomic inequalities undermining the possibility of achieving long-term sustainable and inclusive growth.  To break away from the middle-income trap, they needed to keep up with more developed economies in competing in the high value-added market.  At the national level, efforts must be put in place to address inequality and bridge physical and digital divides, providing equal access to knowledge as well as employment and income-earning opportunities.

Ms. BAKURAMUTSA (Rwanda), associating herself with the Group of 77, said she recognized globalization as impactful in permitting developed and developing countries to harness beneficial collaborations and create higher standards of living for all.  Her country promoted a long-lasting strategic vision for economic development through regional cooperation and trade with a conducive system of policies and incentives for investment.  Greater equitable economic integration for developing countries and increased trade and cross-border capital flows would help mitigate the risks of globalization.  Culture could be an enabler and driver of economic, social and environmental dimensions for sustainable development.  She said that in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda had focused on reconciliation and the building of a unified nation.  Her country established a community court system called “gacaca” which brought about restorative justice and reconciliation at the grassroots level.  Her country also promoted “umuganda” to nurture a shared national identity through public community work, such as infrastructure development and environmental protection.

BHARAT RAJ PAUDYAL (Nepal), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed Countries, said globalization had improved economic and living conditions in both developed and developing States.  However, distribution of its benefits had been uneven, with inequalities widening and technological advancement asymmetrical.  Technology had thrown the uneducated and technologically illiterate into irrelevance, as they failed to fit into economies.  Countries in special situations, such as least developed countries, were vulnerable to economic shocks triggered by globalization.  They were also at the brunt of global problems like climate change, terrorism and transnational crime.  Connectivity of roads and other transport were critical for least developed countries that were landlocked or islands.  A fair and level playing field was needed in trade and better financing solutions as well as technology transfer were needed to make globalization work for all.

The representative of Ukraine, noting that his country was a proud provider of global innovations and well-educated experts in a number of critical fields, highlighted the Ukrainian science park experts whose work had led to innovations in water, energy and cyber technologies and solutions for countries of the global South and least developed countries in Africa.  To that end, he expressed support to the Secretary-General’s report on technological capabilities to accelerate the means of education and training.  Similarly, he encouraged greater international efforts to support education through scientific scholarships, training courses, and research and development grants.

BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said the benefits of globalization were mostly concentrated in developed countries and in wealthier regions.  International economic interdependence was strengthened by globalization and was affected by climate change.  He expressed concern that a “globalization of indifference” negatively affected those who had been excluded from the global economic system, including the poor and marginalized, migrants and refugees.  That trend also extended to those affected by environmental degradation.  He said the international community must work interdependently with an attitude of solidarity to build pathways for responsible cooperation.  “Technological progress and international solidary can indeed reduce the negative impacts of globalization, but without a change of heart, without a new attitude towards our common home and our fellow dwellers in that home, the hope for integral human development for all will remain just a dream rather than reality,” he said.

AMBER BARTH, International Labour Organization (ILO), pointed to the perception that globalization had not realized its potential and had even deepened inequalities.  Part of the globalization backlash was explained by labour markets, where fear reigned that migrants would take over existing jobs.  Considering technology’s reorganization of the labour market, one of the challenges would be to reduce income inequality.  Stagnant real wages and declining wage share had social and economic causes.  Disparity between real wages meant many families were not receiving their fair share.  In fixing globalization, the international community must develop more sustainable growth policies to ensure the employment market met the expectations of working people in attaining decent jobs.  The ILO would work with partners in the United Nations and Member States to ensure fairness for all.

HIROKO MURAKI GOTTLIEB, International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), highlighted global shifts in production markets, rapid technological change and climate change.  She expressed support to various global agreements as enablers for solving global challenges, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which provided a platform for technology, science and innovation.  She also highlighted the importance of the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement in furthering climate finance, technology transfer and capacity-building for sustainable development.  Noting other examples of events and initiatives that supported science, technology and innovation, she expressed her organization’s continued commitment to fulfil the promise of globalization through multi‑stakeholder engagement.

Introduction of Reports

Ms. SIRIMANNE introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society at the regional and international levels (document A/72/64).  She said the report addressed trends in access to ICT, as well as the digital divide, the impact of new and emerging technologies and recent governance developments.  Gaps between countries persisted, despite technological advancements.  Those gaps were apparent in higher broadcast speeds and lower costs of technology in developed States than in developing countries.  Estimates from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) demonstrated that more than half of the world’s population was still offline.  In Europe, 84 per cent of the population had Internet connection, as opposed to only 18 per cent in Africa.  Women were 12 per cent less likely to use the Internet globally, as opposed to 25 per cent in Africa.  Similar digital divides could be seen across youth, rural and urban areas.  In response, she said investment would be critical; however, the international community must also strengthen governance and access to the benefits.  In regards to e-commerce, she said that significant progress was made, particularly in helping businesses and small entrepreneurial ventures connect with global markets.  The rapid pace of change would bring uncertainty and risk to labour and employment markets, she continued.  In response to such risks, UNCTAD recently launched rapid assessments of e-commerce readiness which evaluated the preparedness of developing and least developed countries.  UNCTAD also launched an “e-trade for all” initiative to improve the ability of least developed countries to use and benefit from e-commerce.  In that regard, she called upon the international community to expand support to the digital economy and invited countries to collaborate around the benefits and costs of digitalization.

Interactive Discussion

The representative of Nigeria, noting the disparities between the developed world and Africa, asked for greater clarity on ICT access and affordability, as well as information on the existing gender divide.  In response, Ms. SIRIMANNE reiterated that the gender divide was widening. Despite concerns, she noted that good practices could be seen Africa, especially in terms of small- and medium‑sized enterprises engaged in e-commerce, many of which were run by women.  She encouraged States to learn from those experiences and the report in order to upscale those experiences across the continent.  Regarding access and affordability, she reiterated that massive investments would be necessary in connectivity and other forms of gaps, such as skills and capacity-building and in legal and regulatory environments.

The representative of Ecuador, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, emphasized the need to bridge digital divides between countries, as well as between men and women.  There were 90 mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 people in developed countries as compared with 41 in developing countries and less than 20 in the least developed States.  Such figures were cause for concern given the rapid pace of technological advancements, he said, calling for enabling policy environments, and international cooperation in improving affordability, capacity-building, multilingualism, investment, and appropriate financing. 

Calling for the full and effective implementation of the outcomes of the Geneva and Tunis phases of the World Summit on the Information Society, he added that in an increasingly interdependent world, it was important to strengthen representation and participation from developing countries in Internet governance.  Underscoring the importance of ensuring that the use of technologies should be fully compatible with the purposes and principles of the United Nations charter, he added that the Technology Bank had the potential to foster productive capacity, structural transformation and sustainable development.

NONTAWAT CHANDRTRI (Thailand) spoke on behalf of ASEAN and aligned himself with the Group of 77.   He noted that both the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the 2030 Agenda underscored the pivotal role of ICT, which constituted one of the most important means of implementation.  Such technologies had profound impacts on accelerating socioeconomic development, strengthening connectivity within the bloc as well as with the global community.  In particular, they represented a key driver of the economic and social transformation of ASEAN, expediting economic growth and enabling better integration with the world market.  Guided by the ASEAN Information and Communications Technology Masterplan, the bloc was currently transforming into a digital economy.  The current Masterplan was aimed at adopting and embedding such technology in all sectors of the economy and fostering growth and innovation.  Alongside hardware, software and network upgrades, it focused on connecting every individual and community regardless of location, facilitating faster access to services and creating new and better ways of doing business.  However, he noted the persistence of the digital divide within the region.  On growing cyberthreats in the region, he said some steps the bloc had taken towards the goal of a safe and secure cyberspace included the inaugural ASEAN Ministerial Conference on Cybersecurity and a workshop on strengthening and enhancing cybersecurity regional cooperation.

PENNELOPE ALTHEA BECKLES (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking for CARICOM, and associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Alliance of Small Island States, said small island developing States faced many challenges.  Those included limited resources, dependence on external markets and fragile natural environments.  Accelerated technological change, combined with competitive pressures of globalization, had expanded the digital divide between the global North and South.  Underscoring the relevance of the 2030 Agenda principle, “leave no one behind”, she said the Caribbean Community had increased its focus on information and communications technologies.

The work of the “Caribbean Single ICT Space” aimed to enhance the attractiveness of the regional environment for investment and provide fertile ground for digital production, commerce, entrepreneurship and innovation, she said, adding that “the 2030 Agenda requires the transfer of technology, resources, investment to developing countries, including small island developing States”.  The Community was mindful that the dynamism within the ICT sector had brought about new security and rights-based challenges, including on cybersecurity and Internet governance.   “We live in an interesting and dynamic age, full of countless opportunities,” she noted. 

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) spoke on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries and aligned himself with the Group of 77.  He said most of the least connected nations were those in his Group, with fewer than one in 10 people connected to the Internet.  The cost of connection in relation to average household income was also higher in his Group than in other countries.  To harness maximum benefits from ICT, he recommended, among other things, that policies to ensure ICT services, including broadband technologies, needed to be coupled with modern infrastructure and service delivery systems and that the full participation of women needed to be ensured.  A more robust international cooperation was required for least developed countries to address the challenges they faced, including through South-South and triangular cooperation.

The representative of Maldives, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, said that for small island States, the deployment of ICTs represented an unprecedented opportunity to address long-standing challenges, including in the area of disaster risk management.  In that context, fresh data and statistics were essential.  He therefore called for enhanced support and technical assistance from the international community in strengthening data collection and analysis.

Small island developing States also required help to leverage the use of ICTs in the area of financial services, he said.  In general, their citizens had very low access to such services due to such geography, isolation, dispersed populations, a high level of poverty and extremely high transaction costs, to name a few.  Linking financial services with communication technologies could bring such critical services to rural populations.

SWAPAN DASGUPTA (India) said that while ICTs had tremendous power to change lives, a digital divide could expand existing inequalities.  In India, the Government was implementing a range of programmes involving ICTs, including its Digital India programme that focused on empowering vulnerable sections of the population and those living in remote areas.  E-services included tele‑education, tele-medicine and agricultural information services that provided crop prices, weather forecasts and new farming techniques.  India’s deployment of ICTs to push financial inclusion was a success, with more than 300 million new bank accounts opened for vulnerable sections.  In addition, India continued to work with other developing countries in facilitating capacity-building in the use of ICTs for development.

Ms. PONCE (Philippines), associating herself with ASEAN and the Group of 77, said that while her country had increased its ICT infrastructure and service coverage, it continued to fall behind its peers in terms of the affordability and speed of Internet access.  It was clear that faster and cheaper Internet was required, she said.  The newly-created Department of Information and Communications was developing a national broadband plan that would address gaps in the broadband environment.  It would also lay down approaches to engage stakeholders to bring out universal broadband access in the Philippines.

GUO WEIMIN (Singapore), associating himself with the Group of 77, the Alliance of Small Island States and ASEAN, noted that as digitalization continued to transform the very nature of work, it also posed both challenges and opportunities for achieving Goal 8 on decent jobs and economic growth.  To shape positive change, Governments must take an active role in establishing an enabling environment to prepare business and workers to prosper.   Setting rules that gave incumbent players a fair chance to adapt and compete was one means, as Singapore had done in regard to the new point-to-point transport industry.  Governments should also help workers acquire the skills they need, along the lines of his country’s “Skills Future” programme.  In addition, Governments should help businesses evolve, with initiatives like his country’s “SMEs Go Digital Programme”.  Becoming a “smart nation” involved not just adopting more advanced or complex technology, but using technology to solve society’s problems and making people’s lives better, he stressed.

The representative of Iran, associating himself with the Group of 77, said that many developing countries lacked affordable access to ICTs.  The international community should support developing countries’ efforts for harnessing technology to bridge the digital divide.  He called for enabling policy environments at all levels, including improved affordability, education, capacity-building and technology transfer through international cooperation.  Similarly, States should refrain from adopting measures that denied or restricted the transfer of advanced ICTs “know-how”, including technologies, and means and investment in required infrastructure.  Such efforts would only “postpone international efforts to bridge the digital divide”, he stressed.  His country had implemented policies that narrowed the digital divide at the national level through domestic programmes providing easy access to ICTs and digital-based resources.  In Iran’s sixth development plan, one‑fifth of all new job opportunities per year would come from the ICT sector.  The private sector would also continue to play a significant role, along with youth and the new generation of entrepreneurs.

The representative of Cuba, associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Alliance of Small Island States, described deep inequalities in connectivity which resulted from the current unjust global development model.  While the necessary resources existed to bridge those gaps, changing the status quo required political will and commitment from all developed countries on financing, investment, training, infrastructure creation, knowledge dissemination and the transfer of technology and intellectual property.  “ICTs should be used to enhance people’s capacities for economic and social development, to promote peace and knowledge, to eradicate poverty, illiteracy and social exclusion” based on the strict respect for the Charter, he said.  Establishing a New World Information and Communication Order was a pressing need for developing countries to successfully assume the commitments agreed at the World Summit on the Information Society and to contribute to implementing the 2030 Agenda.  Voicing deep concern at the covert and illegal use of computer systems by individuals, organizations and States to attack other countries and potentially generate international conflicts, he said the only way to face such threats was through cooperation among all States.

The representative of Indonesia, associating himself with the Group of 77 and ASEAN, said ICTs could be key enablers for development.  They could also provide new solutions to development challenges.  However, “we must be aiming at digital dividends, not digital divides,” he said.  ICTs must be adopted as an integral part of national sustainable development strategies.  As well, fostering international cooperation was crucial in order to make ICTs more affordable and accessible.  He went on to recommend preventative measures against the abusive use of ICTs.

The representative of the United Arab Emirates, associating herself with the Group of 77, said that her country’s Council of Ministers communicated with all of society through mass and social media and furthered opportunities with the private sector and entrepreneurs.  A council for the fourth industrial revolution had been established, seeking to build relations between public and private institutions for technological diplomacy.  Such efforts reflected the United Arab Emirates’ commitment to modernity, openness, tolerance and the participation of all people in ICTs.  However, there was a need to bolster collective work against cyberterrorism, and she urged States to expose misleading ideas used by terrorist and extremist groups.  On a national level, numerous social media campaigns were continuing to expose extremist messages and the deceit by ISIL.  In addition, her country also participated in numerous forums and meetings that addressed the future of the Internet and emphasized the importance of international cooperation for ICTs for development.  In that regard, the United Arab Emirates also sought to strengthen multilateral cooperation and the creation of effective laws and regulations.

The representative of Qatar, associating himself with the Group of 77, said ICTs were crucial in achieving the 2030 Agenda and urged for greater dissemination of knowledge, technologies and capacity-building.  In that regard, his country had established an enabling ICT infrastructure, and had launched an annual study to calculate domestic progress relating to ICTs.  His country was actively involved in technological research and promoted education and science as essential components for the development of inclusive and peaceful societies.  Cybercrime and piracy were interlinked with organized crime, and he urged States to work together to combat and penalize those crimes.  As well, due to “illegitimate” unilateral measures undertaken against it, Qatar faced many obstacles in its efforts to fight cybercrime.  ICTs could be used for illicit purposes to violate laws, and in that regard, he called upon the international community to create a common strategy to fight those crimes.

ISMAIL RAUSHAN ZAHIR (Maldives), associating himself with the Alliance of Small Island States and the Group of 77, said that, as a small State comprising 1,190 small islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Maldives prioritized the harnessing of ICTs as part of its development strategy.  The dispersed nature of its population posed unique challenges, with the cost of providing and maintaining socioeconomic services in Maldives often four to five times higher than in other small island developing States.  In that context, the Government was undertaking several awareness-raising and capacity-building programmes, and had created an enabling environment for the private sector.  Those efforts had resulted in more widespread and affordable access to services.  New technologies were also being used in more traditional sectors, including fisheries and tourism, allowing the country’s output to be more efficient and productive. 

The representative of Saudi Arabia, associating himself with the Group of 77, said his country was carrying out major projects that focused on strategies to improve ICT infrastructure.  Everyone must have connectivity to broadband, he stressed, noting that the Government’s partnership with the private sector had helped provide broadband to 90 per cent of people in cities and 60 per cent in rural areas.  Saudi Arabia was proud to serve all faithful Muslims worldwide, most notably during their pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.  Some 13,000 mobile stations had provided services to over a million users and 700 million phone calls were supported during the one-week hajj.  He also underscored that cyberspace and data protection required “true international partnership” as well as a regulatory framework to provide digital protection to all countries.

The representative of Senegal said humankind must all be able to take advantage of ICTs and participate in creating a future for the benefit of all people.  Innovation and new technologies and information were a significant asset for sustainable development.  Many African countries found themselves in a situation of a “technological deficit”, with no access to knowledge and, consequently, the global market.  All countries, particularly developed ones, must aim efforts to bridge the digital divide between developing and developed countries.  ICT could make a substantial contribution to sustainable development and improve the lives of millions by creating important synergies among various sectors. 

The representative of Kenya pointed out that many developing countries and especially least developed countries still lagged behind in the use of ICTs, with challenges ranging from the persistent digital divide to connectivity and access.  The United Nations should fast track the operationalization of the Technology Bank as elaborated in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.  Outlining his Government’s investments in establishing an environment conducive to a thriving ICT sector, he said each of Kenya’s 47 counties was connected to fibre optic technology.  The country’s universities were providing higher learning in the areas of science and technology, and the Government was creating a dedicated institute in that field with the help of development partners.  Kenya’s education network, known as “KENET”, enabled the sharing of research infrastructure and services, including Internet bandwidth and supercomputing.  Additionally, it had had extraordinary success with its mobile money payments system, known as “MPesa”.

The representative of Nepal, associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed Countries, said the fast pace of ICT development had a profound impact on business and public services and offered huge potential for developing countries.  It was critical to achieve the benchmark to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet to least developed countries by 2020.  Noting the establishment of the Technology Bank, he urged support for it to ensure its effective operationalization.  He also encouraged the adoption of policies and strategies to ensure the availability, affordability and accessibility to ICT services coupled with modern infrastructure and service delivery systems.  Recalling the 2015 Nepal earthquake, he said ICTs could minimize loss during disasters through early warning systems, information dissemination, and post‑disaster rescue and recovery campaigns.

 The representative of China, associating himself with the Group of 77, said greater attention should be given to recognize the significance of ICTs for economic and social development.  States should reinforce capacity-building and strengthen efforts to bridge the digital divide at all levels.  Additional attention should be given to address the needs of developing countries through enhanced infrastructure and skills training.  There should be greater partnerships for development through strengthened North-South and South-South cooperation, as well as knowledge sharing, technology transfer and technological training.  His country had implemented a national strategy for innovation, a national ICT strategy and an international strategy for cooperation on cyberspace.  China would continue to promote synchronized ICTs thorough urbanization and agricultural modernization, while promoting international cooperation for common development.

The representative of Togo, associating himself with the Group of 77, said there was “no doubt” that science and innovation had an increasing role in development and prosperity.  It provided “modern life tools” to fight climate change, eliminate poverty and achieve food security.  As such, it was critical to remove the barriers to technology at the international level and pay attention to local needs.  Science technology and innovation must be beneficial to the poor, women, children, the disabled, marginalized, and to regions affected by humanitarian crisis and terrorism.  He noted his Government’s recent reforms and initiatives undertaken including the use of cell phones to distribute State subsidies to farmers.  Several programmes had been set up to extend the Internet to most of the population.  He reiterated his call for enhanced international cooperation and the sharing of ICT.

PHILIP FOX-DRUMMOND GOUGH (Brazil), associating himself with the Group of 77, said the importance of ICTs went beyond the areas spotlighted in the 2030 Agenda.  Indeed, they were also a powerful and transformative tool to foster economic growth, social inclusion and environmentally-friendly solutions, enabling advances in the three dimensions of sustainable development.  “This potential will only be fully materialized if it serves humanity as a whole,” he said, calling for efforts to bridge the digital divide both between Member States and within countries.  While Brazil upheld an applied multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance, distinct issues might require specific frameworks, taking into account the differentiated roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders.  Welcoming progress achieved at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), he said he hoped that States could jointly advance the implementation of the concept of enhanced cooperation, with the aim of improving mechanisms to address international public policies related to the Internet. 

The representative of Mexico said States needed to strengthen public policy in order to respond in a more rapid way to challenges and opportunities brought by the latest technological revolution.  While technology had brought forth much progress, the inequality gap among people also had been broadened.  Technological advance had brought about significant advances in health and agricultural sectors.  However, challenges in labour, unemployment and capacity remained.  In addition, it was estimated that 2 billion jobs would be lost to automation by 2030.  “We are entering the most disruptive period of our history,” she said, noting her country’s response to the challenges.  Noting that Mexico had hosted events on how technological change and automation impacted sustainable development, she urged the United Nations and its agencies, as well as regional and international forums, the private sector, academia, and scientists to collaborate on a broad narrative on the exponential technological changes. 

The representative of Bahrain said her country carried out a comprehensive reform of the ICT sector and fulfilled more than 300 indicators in terms of Government-provided services to the population.  Her Government encouraged technological innovation through various events and initiatives, and strengthened its role in the fourth industrial revolution by promoting the exchange of knowledge and information.  She said that some electronic service companies, such as Amazon, recently announced that they would set up networks in Bahrain.  That development would make the country a regional gateway for cloud computing and would facilitate greater regional trade and e-commerce.

SYLVAIN KALSAKAU (Vanuatu) associated himself with the Group of 77, the Alliance of Small Island States and the Group of Least Developed Countries.  He said his Government prioritized ICT infrastructure investment and connectivity as part of its sustainable development plan.  The domestic telecommunications sector was liberalized in 2008 with around 15 per cent of the population accessing telecommunications services.  Today, 93 per cent of the population had Internet access.  Despite progress, his country lacked the speed and clout that other countries harnessed in terms of ICTs.  He urged a multifaceted approach to bridge the digital divide between developing and developed countries.  His Government supported the ITU Connect 2020 Agenda for an information society which would accelerate social, economic and environmentally sustainable growth and development for all.  On the national level, Vanuatu would create a conducive environment through policies and legal frameworks that foster ICT and telecommunication development in conjunction with the private sector and through public-private partnerships.

The representative of South Africa, associating himself with the Group of 77, said the spread of ICTs was now faster than ever before, with more people having access to internet, mobile phones and related devices.  Nevertheless, data revealed a substantial digital divide in ICT access and use.  Voicing particular concern over that divide between developing countries – especially least developed countries – and other nations in terms of access to household access to ICTs, he said Africa remained the least connected region.  More efforts were needed, including through investments in infrastructure, services, skills development and content.  It was, therefore, important that developing countries, especially in Africa, were provided with coordinated support through the transfer of technology, technical assistance and capacity-building that was tailor-made to the diverse needs of each country.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that while ICT offered great opportunities, the digital divide and limited access continued to play a negative role in sustainable development.  In that context, he underscored the need to focus on building relevant infrastructure, providing high-quality training to technology professionals and promoting the use of e-government services.  Universal broadband technology must be utilized and implemented.  The Russian Federation had worked to expand access to broadband.  Its mobile access to broadband was the cheapest in the world and its cost was expected to decrease further.  The Russian Federation encouraged international cooperation in the research of cloud computing and AI.  Governments must promote partnerships in the telecommunications sector.  ICT also faced major challenges including a rise in threats of terrorism.  He called on Member States to deepen cooperation to develop laws and rules acceptable to all and build a secure and well-protected network.

ALADE AKINREMI BOLAJI (Nigeria) said ICT access in Africa had improved immensely, and increased productivity and innovation in the public and private sectors.  His country facilitated universal availability and cost-effective access to communications infrastructure and promoted the utilization of ICTs in all spheres of life.  His Government also achieved cutting-edge global ICT standards, and encouraged the rapid ICT penetration among all socioeconomic levels.  In doing so, Nigeria would increase the current coverage of active mobile broadband subscription from 20.95 per cent to 50 per cent by 2020.  His country promoted and encouraged local production of ICT hardware and software to reduce import dependence and generate foreign exchange.  Noting the disparity between the availability and use of emerging ICTs, he urged for the international community to give “pride of place” to the education curriculum and thereby bridge the digital divide.  He additionally called for digital inclusion and financial access by lowering the cost of ICT devices, traffic, applications, technician and educator training, software, maintenance and infrastructures.

YONATHAN GUEBREMEDHIN SIMON (Ethiopia), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed Countries, underscored that more than 800 million people in least developed nations remained offline.  “Despite progress, Africa is the least connected continent,” he said, noting lingering challenges in infrastructure investment, skills and content.  It was important to enhance international cooperation and promote more public-private partnerships aimed at bridging the digital divide.  Developing countries must also provide support, including technological transfer and capacity-building.  In Ethiopia, the primary objective of using ICT was as an enabler for poverty reduction and economic growth.  He noted that ICT community centres had been opened in rural areas and also created employment for young people.  It was vital to ensure access to affordable and reliable technologies.

URSULA WYNHOVEN, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), highlighted the report, “Fast Forward Progress-Leveraging Tech to Achieve the Global Goals” and shared lessons from the discussions that had generated the report.  “Leaving no one behind means we cannot leave anyone offline,” she said, also adding that women faced more barriers to acquiring digital skills.  ICTs could be life‑changing and life-saving for women, children, workers and refugees.  Vigilance was necessary to ensure that the benefits were not confined to the privileged few.

DINO CORELL, International Labour Organization (ILO), said that the digital economy, innovation, AI, robotization and 3D printing among others would contribute to structural changes within industries and labour markets.  Digital transformation would address youth unemployment, which currently affected two out of every five young women and men worldwide, who were unemployed or working but living in poverty.  Noting the priority areas of the Global Initiative for Decent Jobs for Youth (DJY), he said the ILO had in 2016 launched a “digital skills for decent jobs for youth” campaign.  The initiative aimed to mobilize investments to equip 5 million youth with digital skills globally by 2030, realize the potential of the digital economy and promote an enabling environment for entrepreneurship.

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