ECOSOC High Level Political Forum 2020: Small Island Developing States Meeting

Mobilizing international solidarity, accelerating action and embarking on new pathways to realize the 2030 Agenda and the Samoa Pathway
09 Jul 2020 15:39
ECOSOC High Level Political Forum 2020: Small Island Developing States Meeting
Attorney-General and Minister for Economy, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

Bula Vinaka from Fiji. 


As COVID-19 continues its global surge, hundreds of thousands of lives have been cut tragically short, and hundreds of millions of people have seen their livelihoods diminish or disappear. As the world economy craters towards its sharpest peacetime recession in a century, small island developing economies –– including Fiji –– are falling fastest. 


Smaller economies feel the ebbs and flows of international markets most acutely –– and this latest crash has landed with devastating impact. Our manufacturing bases are fragile –– and our exports are collapsing alongside plummeting consumer spending. And the size of our markets means single companies often uphold key sectors, such as aviation –– as they go, so go entire industries. 


We lack the commercial scale to elbow our ways to the front of delivery queues –– a neocolonial pecking order that, too often, leaves us last in line for life-saving essentials, like ventilators. And many of us depend highly on travel-related industries like tourism, which could take years to recover. 


Pre-COVID, when a visitor arrived for a holiday on the shores of a small island state, the value of their every purchase rippled throughout the entire economy. As a tourist sipped a cocktail by a Fijian beach, for example, an environmental levy on that drink would be helping us fund a seawall to protect a nearby village from coastal erosion. Those same revenues –– which contribute up to 40 percent of Fiji’s GDP –– also build climate-resilient schools, support the health of ocean and terrestrial ecosystems, empower women entrepreneurs, and oftentimes form our most powerful engine of progress towards the 2030 agenda. 


So, even as Fiji’s decisive campaign of COVID-Containment quickly ended community-based transmission and spared us the loss of any life, travel restrictions and stagnating supply chains have delivered brutal body blows to our economy, leaving over 115,000 Fijians –– one third of our entire workforce –– with their jobs lost or hours cut. 


The extraordinary financial measures we’ve taken to keep these Fijians and their families afloat aren’t a lasting solution. And as tourism income has dried up, the seas have continued to rise –– so we’re left faced with a COVID-Catch 22. 


In any given year, a single natural disaster can decimate an economy of climate-vulnerable small states, taking years to rebuild from. But today, if you were to ask any SIDS finance or economy minister, they’ll tell you that –– when compounded by the global pandemic –– our usual climate-induced anxiety has escalated into a sense of impending dread.


As a climate crisis is fueled by a health crisis, and fueled further by an economic crisis, the world’s most vulnerable nations are left bracing for a churning “coronavirus cyclone”. But its potential impact cannot be measured by windscale, but by the years, or even decades, of lost progress. The eye of this strengthening storm is aimed directly at the 2030 Agenda itself.


With traditional revenue sources –– like tourism –– gutted, small economies don’t have the consolidated fiscal space to spend our way out of this problem. And, unfortunately, the global financial architecture –– already ill-equipped at managing climate catastrophe –– is even less suited to a world ravaged both by climate impacts and COVID-19. 


The Bretton Woods system was built for a world reeling from the aftermath of the second world war. At that time, its focus was on rebuilding a devastated Europe, Fiji wasn’t a sovereign country, nor were many nations across the Pacific, Asia and Africa. For decades, we’ve struggled to mend multilateral frameworks to match our realities. Now, caught in the perfect storm of climate change and COVID-19, we’re running out of time to remedy an international financial system which has proved badly out-of-date.


Fiji has supported the UN Secretary-General’s call for debt relief –– a measure that must extend through 2023. But management of those debts must not be exploited to serve outside, politically-driven motivations. We simply don’t have time for these “pandemic politics”.


As international trading channels reopen, SIDS should be granted preferential access to the goods and services on which our economies depend. Once a viable vaccine becomes available, it must be treated as a global public good, not commoditised and bought out by the highest bidders. 


A staggering nine trillion dollars have been injected to stimulate developed economies. Meanwhile, SIDS are scrambling to secure a mere half per cent of that amount –– a financial lifeline we badly need to weather this pandemic’s historic economic fallout. So, above all, accessible and affordable crisis financing must rapidly materialise to support resilient recoveries across vulnerable economies. 


With COVID-19 –– as with every aim of the 2030 Agenda –– our multilateral response carries equally-weighted ethical and economic imperatives. We cannot allow climate action cannot fall casualty to COVID-19, nor can the big, blue ideas needed to spare our oceans further degradation. Otherwise, our short-sighted reset to the status quo will cost our children and grandchildren a future.


Alongside larger, more developed nations, SIDS must build back better, bluer and greener. The world economy must recover more inclusively, more equitably and with innovation top of mind. And rather than simply “reset” or “rebuild”, we must reimagine how our multilateral system responds to humanity’s greatest challenges. Where this pandemic has exposed inequality, dated frameworks and hyper-prescriptive designations must give way to inclusive architectures and tailored solutions. Where it has painfully revealed the pitfalls of unilateralism, we must heed its deadly warnings. And where it has unveiled opportunities for solidarity, we must seize them, and harness that multilateral momentum through this crisis, on to 2030 and beyond.  


Thank you. And –– as we say in Fiji –– vinaka vakalevu. 


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