A call for greater regional cooperation

Asia-Pacific leaders at annual UN policy forum call for greater regional cooperation to build back together from COVID-19 pandemic

Sonam Penjor

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) opened its 77th session on 26 April in Bangkok with a strong call for strengthening multilateralism, international development coordination, and collaboration with sub-regional organizations to build back better from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Asia and the Pacific is at stake,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, who noted that the health crisis, together with measures to mitigate its impacts, have deeply affected countries of Asia and the Pacific, both economically and socially over the past year.

“While, the ongoing roll-out of vaccines in the region offers hope for recovery, yet no country will be fully secure when others are still fighting the pandemic. We must ensure that the vaccines are affordable and accessible to all if we are to recover better together,” she said.

Alisjahbana highlighted that ESCAP is taking steps to help its members build back stronger from the pandemic by advocating for strengthening social protection systems and enhancing sustainable financing, promoting digital trade, and investing in cleaner and greener solutions.

“As we approach our seventy-fifth anniversary of ESCAP next year, let us forge a common agenda to fully recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and to advance sustainable development through regional cooperation in Asia and the Pacific,” she said.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said while many ESCAP members were charting a course towards a strong recovery from the pandemic by committing to net zero emissions and green growth, millions of people across the Asia-Pacific region remained highly vulnerable and at risk.

“Together, let’s build a strong recovery from the pandemic, relaunch the Decade of Action for the SDGs and create cleaner, greener, and more inclusive economies and societies that provide opportunities for all,” he said in a written statement.

The session is being held under the theme, “Building back better from crises through regional cooperation in Asia and the Pacific.” The study prepared for the meeting finds that throughout the region countries have suffered abrupt economic contractions, interruptions to trade, broken supply chains, and the complete collapse of international tourism – leading to widespread job losses and increases in poverty. 

The report finds that broadening social protection, investing in a sustained recovery, keeping goods and information flowing, and protecting environmental health will be key to emerging stronger from the pandemic.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Chair of the session, Mukhtar Tleuberdi, said that recovering from the crisis will require innovative solutions and urgent collective efforts that no country can do alone. 

“To achieve greater results in such a diverse and complex region we must strengthen our collaboration both at regional and sub-regional levels. Only through joint efforts can our countries turn our region into a zone of peace, cooperation and development,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lyonchhen Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering addressed the inaugural session of the 77th session of the UN-ESCAP. In his address, Lyonchhen shared the experience of Bhutan where our biggest strength has been our leadership, with a 21st century King who guides us with modern, empirical knowledge combined with compassion.

Lyonchhen also stated that the development principle of Gross National Happiness has informed our response to the Covid-19 pandemic and continues to provide a much-needed cushion to bounce back faster.

He offered the story of Bhutan and the concept of “development with values” as an experience that could be considered while seeking to build back better.

Lyonchhen was among the 16 leaders of the Asia Pacific Region to address the session.

Meanwhile, leaders during the session shared the key priorities of building back better from the pandemic through various measures including strengthening of multilateral and regional cooperation.

The seventy-seventh session of the ESCAP concluded on 29 April 2021 and the Commission session was held virtually under the theme “Building back better from crises through regional cooperation”.