Explanation of Position on a General Assembly Resolution on Strengthening the Economic and Social Council

Jay M. Kimmel
Adviser for Economic and Social Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
July 23, 2018


Thank you, Mr. President. I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the co-facilitators, the Permanent Representatives of Iceland and Qatar, and their teams in support of this negotiation. We would also like to recognize those who engaged constructively in this process. Working to improve ECOSOC’s tangled bureaucracy is a pressing challenge, and many delegations came forward with ambitious proposals to streamline ECOSOC’s overloaded schedule of meetings and negotiations, to advance the participation of civil society, and to improve the focus and relevance of ECOSOC’s work.

Regrettably, this resolution takes only small steps in that direction. It passes important tasks – improving working methods of functional commissions and the Non-Governmental Organizations Committee, reviewing ECOSOC and the HLPF together, eliminating unproductive and duplicative negotiations, and more – to future reviews. We call on all Member States to ensure those future reviews can be more productive.

We also need to seize upon the gains that we do see in this resolution. Critically, this resolution highlights the review of the NGO Committee’s working methods and encourages it to be concluded in a timely matter. We strongly support improving the methods of work of the NGO Committee, enabling it to fulfill its role to give civil society a voice in the United Nations system. Civil society organizations are often the eyes and ears on the ground and an invaluable resource for reporting, yet for many NGOs, including those with well-established international credibility, the NGO Committee continues to hinder their participation. We are pleased to see that the number of NGOs applying for ECOSOC consultative status continues to grow, an indication of the significance and impact this status has for NGOs worldwide. Unfortunately, for many NGOs, it takes two or more years to get accreditation. Other applications for credible NGOs are delayed seemingly indefinitely. The current methods of work contribute to these and other challenges, undermining the effectiveness and the reputation of the Committee.

This resolution highlights the contribution of important outside stakeholders – including NGOs and the private sector. We hear time and again that the unique value of ECOSOC is its convening power as part of the United Nations. That argument is hollow when civil society is excluded and ignored.

While this resolution reaffirms the role of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the Secretariat, DESA, we think it falls wholly short in addressing the need for DESA reform. DESA reform is crucial to the revitalization of ECOSOC and DESA needs to be more efficient and effective.

This resolution calls on ECOSOC to avoid duplication and overlap to ensure efficiency and effectiveness and emphasizes the division of labor of its work. That is critical. ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies will be most successful when they focus narrowly on areas of true comparative advantage, and eliminate activities and negotiations where they do not have the competence, authority, or expertise.

We take this opportunity to make important points of clarification on language related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We underscore that the 2030 Agenda is non-binding and does not create or affect rights or obligations under international law, nor does it create any new financial commitments.

The United States recognizes the 2030 Agenda as a global framework for sustainable development that can help countries work toward global peace and prosperity. We applaud the call for shared responsibility, including national responsibility, in the 2030 Agenda and emphasize that all countries have a role to play in achieving its vision. The 2030 Agenda recognizes that each country must work toward implementation in accordance with its own national policies and priorities.

The United States also underscores that paragraph 18 of the 2030 Agenda calls for countries to implement the Agenda in a manner that is consistent with the rights and obligations of States under international law.

We also highlight our mutual recognition in paragraph 58 that 2030 Agenda implementation must respect and be without prejudice to the independent mandates of other processes and institutions, including negotiations, and does not prejudge or serve as precedent for decisions and actions underway in other forums. For example, this Agenda does not represent a commitment to provide new market access for goods or services. This Agenda also does not interpret or alter any WTO agreement or decision, including the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property.

We also would like to make important points of clarification regarding the reaffirmation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, AAAA. Specifically, we note that much of the trade-related language in the AAAA outcome document has been overtaken by events since July 2015; therefore, it is immaterial, and our reaffirmation of the outcome document has no standing for ongoing work and negotiations that involve trade.

In addition, certain elements of the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action Pathway, such as on international trade, may have been overtaken by events and may no longer be implementable.

Also, the New Urban Agenda is non-binding document, which does not create or affect rights or obligations under international law. As we’ve noted elsewhere, the United States believes that each Member State has the sovereign right to determine how it conducts trade with other countries and that this includes restricting trade in certain circumstances. Economic sanctions, whether unilateral or multilateral, can be a successful means of achieving foreign policy objectives. In cases where the United States has applied sanctions, they have been used with specific objectives in mind, including as a means to promote a return to rule of law or democratic systems, to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, or to prevent threats to international security. We are within our rights to utilize our trade and commercial policy as tools to achieve noble objectives. Targeted economic sanctions can be an appropriate, effective, and legitimate alternative to the use of force.

With regards to the Istanbul Program of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011-2020, the United States highlights concerns to the extent that it encourages financial assistance to the Technology Bank and characterize technology transfer that is not clearly indicated to be both voluntary and on mutually agreed terms. For the United States, any such language will have no standing in future negotiations. The United States continues to oppose language that we believe undermines intellectual property rights.

With respect to references to the Paris Agreement, we note that the United States announced its intention to withdraw from the Agreement as soon as it is eligible to do so, consistent with the terms of the Agreement, unless we can identify suitable terms for re-engagement. We therefore note our concerns with language related to climate change and the Paris Agreement, and emphasize that such language is without prejudice to U.S. positions. We recognize that climate change is a complex global concern, and affirm our strong commitment to national environmental policies that promote a realistic and balanced approach to economic growth and energy security while also reducing emissions.

The United States has been a strong supporter of disaster risk-reduction initiatives designed to reduce loss of life and the social and economic impacts of disasters. This assistance helps recipients achieve self-reliance, and promotes greater resilience. However, we reiterate our views on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction set forth in the U.S. Explanation of Position delivered in Sendai on March 18, 2015, specifically with coercive language on technology transfer, assumptions on the meaning of “right to development,” or any language that creates new or changes the obligations of countries under national law and relevant international agreements, or mandates any new activities. We’d like to reiterate that each State has the primary responsibility for taking effective measures to reduce disaster risk, including for the protection of people on its territory, infrastructure, and other national assets; moreover, we dissociate from any reference to processes or relationships that disenfranchise the private sector, a vital partner in our endeavors.

Regarding new technologies, the United States tries to focus on how to maximize the benefits of existing, new, and emerging technologies, including through the support of basic research, modernizing government, and developing our STEM workforce. We are committed to creating an environment where new technologies can succeed. In addition, we are committed to active multi-stakeholder engagement and public participation to promote accountability, optimize decision-making, and recognize potential risks associated with new technologies as they arise, foster public trust, and keep abreast of the latest research.

Colleagues, in conclusion, incremental as it may be, this resolution is a step towards a better functioning, more efficient, more focused, and streamlined ECOSOC. At the same time, it falls far short of the improvements we need. We encourage all of you, as well as ECOSOC’s subsidiary bodies, and the offices and staff in the Secretariat who support ECOSOC’s work to help realize and build upon that progress.