Green recovery, securing development finance, and mobilising international efforts to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while recovering from the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic were the main topics at the two-day International Cooperation Forum (ICF) organised by Egypt this week.
The SDGs were adopted by all UN member states in 2015 and aim “to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030”, according to the UN.
The ICF aimed to help lay the foundations for sustainable recovery and push the international development agenda forward amid the ongoing pandemic, while discussing ways to achieve Egypt’s 2030 Vision, closely linked to the SDGs and the Africa We Want Agenda 2063.
The event was organised by the Ministry of International Cooperation in collaboration with some 1,500 representatives of international financial institutions (IFIs), regional financial institutions, governments, civil society, and the private sector.
Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Rania Al-Mashat, minister of international cooperation, said that the holding of the forum under the patronage of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi illustrated the state’s conviction that joint work is necessary to promote development, support the international community’s efforts in achieving the SDGs, and boost the Africa 2063 Agenda.
“The ICF discussed the most urgent topics related to global development and the means to recover from the pandemic through the partnership of the bodies concerned,” Al-Mashat said.
The forum will be an annual event that gathers stakeholders to push forward the SDGs on the local, regional, and global levels.
In an interview with the Weekly, the deputy secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Jeffrey Schlagenhauf, said that Egypt had taken the lead by organising the ICF, adding that it was a great opportunity to scale up international efforts to achieve the SDGs and recover from the pandemic.
“Egypt did a lot in this area a number of years ago through the OECD’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) programme that focuses on this important region in the world. The forum is a great step forward in mobilising efforts on a global level,” Schlagenhauf said.
To meet the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic, the OECD has launched the MENA-OECD Initiative for Development, which includes two programmes on governance and competitiveness with an aim to reinforce reform in the region through an inclusive and coordinated approach, innovative policy dialogue, links between key stakeholders, peer learning and capacity building.
The initiative covers 19 countries: Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the UAE, Yemen, and Kuwait.
“The important thing with the SDGs effort in Egypt is to bring as many players to the table as it can and to attract durable investment into the country, in particular into Africa, to finance the projects that serve these goals,” Schlagenhauf said.
He said that the OECD was committed to continuing its support for Egypt’s efforts to achieve its SDGs agenda and to meet its Africa 2063 Agenda obligations.
On the finance gap that Africa, including Egypt, is suffering from in attaining the SDGs, Schlagenhauf told the Weekly that between 2018 and 2019 the African countries had secured financing of around $41.4 billion, which is not sufficient for the continent to meet its obligations amid ongoing challenges.
He called for mobilising more finances from the global community and spurring the private sector to play its part in the development and recovery processes.
The minister of state for economic affairs in the Libyan Government of National Unity and head of the Libyan delegation at the forum, Salama Al-Ghawil, said that Egypt was playing a leading role in the region regarding economic, development, and political aspects, notably with regard to Libya.
The ICF was a prime example of this role, he said.
CEO of the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC) Hani Sonbol highlighted the role that multilateralism and international cooperation can play in supporting the SDGs agenda in Africa and Egypt by leveraging the required resources to finance its achievement.
Sonbol commended the efforts of Egypt’s Ministry of International Cooperation in bringing together international institutions at a pivotal time. He added that the Egyptian government has been at the forefront of development cooperation, providing an innovative framework and a blueprint that can be replicated by other countries to achieve the SDGs.
“Trade finance is more important now than ever before to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable countries are anchored to the international trade system and that they are not left behind, as the trade finance gap, initially estimated at $1.5 trillion before the pandemic, has increased significantly to $3.4 trillion, and in order to be able to meet the SDGs,” he explained.
He added that the ITFC has been keen on prioritising trade in its member countries, approving over $58 billion for them since 2008, out of which $23 billion was provided for Africa and around $7 billion for the African least developed countries (LDCs).
Underlining the critical role that multilateral development banks play in times of crises, Sonbol pointed to the ITFC’s Covid-19 Response Programme, which has approved over $605 million to support member countries in restoring livelihoods, building resilience, and kick-starting economic growth, with a particular focus on supporting micro, small, and, medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), sustaining agriculture value chains, and building capacities, and highlighting the role of the ITFC’s trade development initiatives in enhancing resilience.
President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Collen Vixen, who participated in the forum virtually, emphasised the importance of enhancing the inclusive economy and engaging the development banks in supporting the private sector.
“We need to set up systems that catalyse growth consistently and that will benefit the developing countries in reducing their debt levels and coping with the challenges they face,” he said.
He also noted the importance of establishing bilateral and multilateral partnerships, particularly in the field of producing vaccines against the coronavirus and overcoming the Covid-19 pandemic.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly