Haoliang Xu: Keynote address at the Round Table Implementation Meeting 2017

Nov 23, 2017

2017 Round Table Implementation Meeting
22-23 November 2017 - Champassak Province

Keynote Address by Mr. Haoliang Xu
UN Assistant Secretary General
UNDP Assistant Administrator & Regional Director for Asia Pacific

 

Your Excellency, Mr. Somdy Douangdy, Deputy Prime Minister of Lao PDR,

Your Excellency Dr. Souphanh Keomixay, Minister of Planning and Investment,

Your Excellency Dr. Bounthong Divixay, Governor of Champassak Province,

Excellencies, Ambassadors, Distinguished Guests,

Ladies & Gentlemen.

Sabaidee. A very good morning everybody.

It is a privilege for me to be able to join this 2017 Round Table meeting in Champassak province and address this opening session.

This is my second Round Table Meeting in Lao PDR in three years. In attending this national development forum, I am always impressed with the efficiency of the process and the diversity of development partners gathered together. Equally impressive is the desire of the Government to make the process more open and participatory, including by having these Meetings take place at locations across the country.

This serves as a powerful reminder to us that development – which is our ultimate goal – is about including all people, everywhere, and ensuring ‘no one is left behind’.

‘Leaving no one behind’ – the central tenet of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – has special resonance in Asia-Pacific. There is a remarkable development story to be told about the region – of which Lao PDR is an integral part.

This region of the world has developed at a faster pace than any other. Its share in global GDP has increased from about 10 percent in the 1950’s to nearly 40 percent today. Even more impressive - the number of people living in extreme poverty[1] in the region has decreased, from almost one and a half billion in 1990, to around 323 million in 2013.

Yet despite unparalleled progress, significant challenges remain, which are also mirrored here in Lao PDR: Despite impressive sustained economic growth over many years now, inequalities, rural poverty and malnutrition persists. Environmental degradation still needs to be tackled, and the misery of remnant UXO still inflicts devastating harm and impedes progress for many provinces.

The four core themes selected for this years’ Round Table Implementation Meeting are compelling: i) LDC graduation & SDG integration; ii) ensuring quality private sector investment; iii) promoting national human resources and skills development; and; iv) South-south & triangular cooperation.

I would like to touch on each of them briefly within the global and Asia-Pacific regional context.     

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Firstly, Lao PDR has long cherished the goal of shedding its Least Developed Country status. The major challenge in this regard lies not in reaching the levels Gross National Income (GNI), since the country is achieving year-on-year growth in incomes. Rather, as most of you know, the sterner challenges relate to human assets and economic vulnerabilities.[2]

As a result, there remains an urgent need to secure sustained investments national health and educational programmes: ‘nutrition’, ‘literacy’, ‘secondary school enrolment’, ‘under-5 mortality’ and ‘maternal mortality’.

Further progress in these areas will not only propel Lao PDR out of LDC status, but also provide a solid foundation for SDG attainment by 2030.

Meanwhile, the Government (at national and provincial level), supported by development partners, are to be commended for their combined and sustained attention, in tackling food and nutrition security as a national priority, using a multi-sectoral approach.

Enduring effort be needed to hit the target of ensuring that 18% of the national budget is allocated to the education sector, and, at the same time, to increasing investments in health.

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Concerning the economic vulnerability issues confronting Lao PDR’s LDC graduation, three issues stand out.

Firstly, the need to follow the path of greater economic diversification aligned to a strong human resource development strategy - as mentioned already. In this regard, the consultations today concerning, ‘investment in skills for human development’ will be especially important in the pursuit of national and local economic diversification strategies.

Secondly, through the roll-out of a system of universal social protection, which is vital for protecting human development from periodic shocks.

Thirdly, reducing risk posed from natural disasters. This can be achieved by adopting and integrating the Sendai Framework’s ‘four priorities for action’.  This will build resilience and serve to reduce new and existing disaster risks, including risks posed by climate change.

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I would now like to turn attention to the historic undertaking entered into by all nations – that of achieving the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. In this I extend a special appeal to the representatives from the private sector present here today.  

According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), between $3.3 and $4.5 trillion a year will be needed to meet the targets of the SDG relevant sectors.

How do we meet the enormous need?

In terms of the public funds to be invested in the SDGs, the Government and provincial authorities have a lead role to play, both through policy leadership, as well as increasing the volume of domestic revenues generated and allocated to the SDGs.

At the same time, development partners will be stretching to sustain current levels of official development assistance (ODA) to Lao PDR in a post-LDC environment. Yet, ODA will remain indispensable for catalysing development, and will need to be utilized ever more judiciously.

The most important emergent development partner to the 2030 development agenda, is therefore the private sector.

Indeed, there is growing interest from the private sector globally. According to a recent survey of 100 countries by Accenture, 87 percent of CEOs believe the SDGs provide an opportunity to rethink sustainable value creation; 85 percent see cross-sector coalitions and partnerships as essential for transformation; and 84 percent call for close collaboration with government on SDG action plans.  

In addition, we are now hearing of many companies incorporating the SDGs into their corporate mission statement, because they understand that future business success will depend on being inclusive and sustainable.

By adopting sustainable practices, companies can also gain a competitive edge, increase their market share, and boost stakeholder value.

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So the question is:  How do we fully unleash the economic power of the private sector to realize the SDGs in Lao PDR? 

Global best practice informs us that when national governments and provincial authorities understand the needs of business, and business understands the development priorities of governments and local authorities, everyone stands to benefit.

This will happen through the design of policies that enable business to flourish, and which encourage business to move beyond corporate social responsibility to make sustainable development a core part of their operating model.

This transformation can be initiated by CEOs by making sustainable development essential within business strategies and a core competence of their companies. 

We all need to spread the word more effectively to our private sector partners that responsible business is not only a force for good, it is good for the bottom line.

In this regard, I was very pleased to hear that the Round Table process and the Lao Business Forum have been able to link up more directly in the run up to this years’ Round Table Meeting.

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Diverse partnerships truly hold the key to SDG success.  For this reason, I was also delighted to see ‘Public-Private’ Partnerships featured prominently in the new Vientiane Declaration and its Action Plan. 

According to a recent UN DESA[3] report, more than US$ 800 billion of private investments went into Public-Private Partnerships in Asia from 1994 to 2014, and the amount is increasing. Private companies are purposefully collaborating with national and provincial governments to create jobs, establish value chains, build infrastructure, deliver services, and participate more in public policy and regulation that advance national development goals.  This involves sharing responsibilities and risks, joint investment and transparency.

Critical to the elements of our dialogue today, is that it gets translated into action.

This links closely to the final area of consultation at this years’ Round Table Implementation Meeting – that of ‘south-south’ cooperation.

From a national economic development perspective it is worthwhile recall the many positive experiences we have in the ASEAN region itself.

For example, I have just travelled from Singapore, a country which in 1960 adopted a focused roadmap for development with innovative ideas in areas such as engineering, education, tourism, retail, financial services and container shipping. This shaped Singapore’s economic and industrial development success.

Within this spirit of cooperation, we encourage Lao PDR to benefit from the example of Singapore, and many other examples of countries in the near region that have charted, then systematically pursued, focused economic diversification and competitiveness strategies, backed up by solid national human resource investment plans. 

I would like to conclude by making brief mention of the UNDP Social Impact Fund that we recently established.

It is a 'blended finance' platform to promote social impact investing and investment in SDG implementation in Asia-Pacific. The Fund is now ready to receive proposals thanks to a partnership with the Haifu International Finance Company.

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In closing, bold leadership is required from four groups: i) Government officials at the national and provincial levels; ii) CEO’s; iii) civil society groups, and; iv) school teachers.

Lao PDR is well placed to facilitate a change from among these four sets of people through a partnership approach.

The aim should be to bring the knowledge and awareness of the SDGs and 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda into every institution, enterprise, school and household across the country.

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The UN system stands ready to continue to support all efforts to end poverty in all its forms and contribute to setting Asia-Pacific on the path to sustainable development.

I wish you every success in your constructive discussions and dialogue today.

Thank you.

 

Sources:

[1] (US$1.90/day)

[2] Lao PDR’s position on the three criteria for LDC graduation as per the review in 2015

LDC Graduation Criteria

2015 Inclusion Threshold

2015 Graduation Threshold

Lao PDR 2012 CPD Review

Lao PDR 2015 CPD Review

% of the LDC Graduation Threshold

GNI per capita

1,035

1,242 (Inclusion+20%)

1,460 (2013)

1,232

99%

HAI

60

66

61.4

60.8

92%

EVI

36

32

37.1

36.2

87%

[3] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs

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