General Statement in a Meeting of the Second Committee

Jesse Walter
Advisor for Economic and Social Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
November 18, 2020


On behalf of the U.S. government, I would like to extend our thanks to Ambassador Rai as chair of this Second Committee session, as well as to the Vice Chairs. The Bureau has ably guided the negotiation schedule over the last several weeks, and we are appreciative of the discipline to ensure that the Committee’s work finishes on schedule.

We take this opportunity to clarify the U.S. policy position on several issues found in Second Committee resolutions.

We underscore that the resolutions negotiated during the Second Committee session as well as many of the outcome documents referenced therein, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, are non-binding and do not create new or affect existing rights or obligations under international law, nor does it create any new financial commitments.

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: 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, and we will interpret calls that reaffirm the 2030 Agenda or call for the full implementation of its Sustainable Development Goals to be aspirational.

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 World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement or decision, including the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property.

Further, citizen-responsive governance, including the respect for human rights, sound economic policy and fiscal management, government transparency, and the rule of law are essential to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Finally, the 2030 Agenda states that “no one” will be left behind. We believe any alteration from the 2030 language, such as “no country left behind,” erodes the people-centered focus of the Agenda and distracts from the many multi-faceted and multi-stakeholder efforts to advance sustainable development.

Addis Ababa Action Agenda: Regarding the reaffirmation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, we note that much of the trade-related language in the outcome document is immaterial to our position. Therefore, our reaffirmation of the outcome document has no standing for ongoing work and negotiations that involve trade.

Trade: The United States enjoys strong and growing trade relationships across the globe. We welcome efforts to bolster those relationships, increase economic cooperation, and drive prosperity to all of our peoples through fair and reciprocal trade. However, as President Trump stated to the 73rd UN General Assembly on September 25, 2018, the United States will act in its sovereign interest, including on trade matters. The United States does not take our trade policy direction from the UN.

World Trade Organization: It is our view that the UN must respect the independent mandates of other processes and institutions, including trade negotiations, and must not involve itself in decisions and actions in other forums, including at the WTO.

The UN is not the appropriate venue for these discussions, and there should be no expectation or misconception that the United States would understand recommendations made by the General Assembly or the Economic and Social Council on these issues to be binding. This includes calls that undermine incentives for innovation, such as technology transfer that is not both voluntary and on mutually agreed terms.

World Health Organization: Regarding references to the World Health Organization (WHO), on May 29, 2020, President Trump announced the United States is terminating its relationship with the World Health Organization (WHO) and redirecting foreign assistance funding planned for the WHO to other deserving organizations and urgent health needs around the world. The United States submitted a notice of withdrawal from the WHO, which will become effective on July 6, 2021. The Trump administration has been clear that the WHO needs to reform, starting with demonstrating its independence from the Chinese Communist Party, and making substantive improvements to the organization’s ability to prepare for, prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks of dangerous pathogens with transparency and accountability. Consistent with our long-standing policy, the United States will continue efforts to reform the WHO and other international organizations to ensure they operate with transparency and fulfill their mandates. The United States’ actions at the WHO do not affect the level of our overall global health assistance, which accounts for more than 40 percent of total global health funding. The United States continues to lead the world in health and humanitarian aid in an “All-of-America” effort, and we are committed to ensuring our generosity directly reaches people around the world.

Climate Change: With respect to the Paris Agreement and climate change language, we note that U.S. withdrawal from the Agreement took effect on November 4, 2020. Therefore, references to the Paris Agreement and climate change are without prejudice to U.S. positions. We affirm our support for promoting economic growth and improving energy security while also protecting the environment. The United States does not support references to climate change in resolutions that are inconsistent with this approach and those that do not respect national circumstances and approaches.

Climate Science: With respect to references to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special reports, the United States has indicated at the IPCC that acceptance of such reports and approval of their respective Summaries for Policymakers by the IPCC does not imply U.S. endorsement of the specific findings or underlying contents of the reports. References to the IPCC special reports are also without prejudice to U.S. positions.

Disaster Risk Reduction: The United States reiterates our views on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction from the U.S. Explanation of Position delivered in 2015. We strongly support disaster risk-reduction initiatives designed to reduce loss of life and the social and economic impacts of disasters. This assistance helps recipients build a culture of preparedness, promote greater resilience, and achieve self-reliance.

Women’s Equality and Empowerment: Consistent with the Geneva Consensus Declaration, the United States is committed to promoting women’s equality and to empowering women and girls. The United States is leading through our W-GDP Initiative, which seeks to enhance opportunities for women to participate meaningfully in the economy and advance both prosperity and national security, as well as through the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda. Accordingly, when the subject of a resolution text is “women,” or in some cases “women and girls,” our preference in this context is to use these terms, rather than “gender,” for greater precision. The United States does not consider the outcome documents from the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women to be the product of consensus.

New Urban Agenda: With respect to the New Urban Agenda, 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 can be a successful means of achieving national security and foreign policy objectives. In cases where the United States has applied sanctions, we have done so with specific objectives in mind, including as a means to promote a return to rule of law, democratic systems, or human rights and fundamental freedoms, or to prevent threats to international security. We are within our rights to deploy our trade and commercial policy as tools to achieve our foreign policy and national security objectives. Targeted economic sanctions can be an appropriate, effective, and legitimate alternative to the use of force.

Illicit Financial Flows: While the United States acknowledges the UN system increasingly uses the term “illicit financial flows,” we continue to have concerns that this term lacks an agreed-upon international definition. Without an agreed-upon definition, resolutions should be clearer about the specific underlying illegal activities, such as embezzlement, bribery, money laundering, other corrupt practices, and other crimes that produce or contribute to the generation and movement of illicit finance. Equally, all Member States should focus more concretely on preventing and combating these crimes at home.

Official Development Assistance: Concerning official development assistance, the proper forum to discuss eligibility measures is the Boards of the Multilateral Development Banks and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. We do not accept the UN as the appropriate forum for determining eligibility for, and allocation of, these resources.

Inclusive Growth: The United States also notes that the term “inclusive growth” appears throughout many of the resolutions. Part of the problem with placing inclusive growth at the forefront of economic discussions is that the term itself is vaguely defined and applied freely to economic discussions, we must ensure that any work or goal related to inclusivity remain grounded in evidence and proven best practices.

Build Back Better and Greener: For decades, the United States, alongside our partners, has worked successfully to build and strengthen the capacity and resilience of communities and countries, before and after both natural and manmade disasters. We continue to do so to achieve a more resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we must acknowledge that greater transparency and open information sharing is an essential first step. We encourage the use of actionable terms that allow for more precise understanding of resolution language as an important step towards achieving this complex and significant task. We should avoid the use of undefined phrases such as “build back better” and clearly explain our intentions. In addition, the United States notes that the term “greener” is not clearly defined, and reads this term to pertain to sustainable development, while also noting the need to focus on economic recovery for those devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is incumbent on us to ensure our citizens all understand the important work we undertake here at the UN by using language in resolutions that is widely understandable.

Thank you.