AP Interview: UN trade chief wants less inequality

The U.N. trade chief urged global leaders Saturday to focus much more on reducing growing inequalities around the world than constantly looking to appease financial markets, which largely benefits the rich.

Supachai Panitchpakdi pointed to protests around the world from countries that launched the Arab Spring to the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S. that demonstrate the growing disparity between frustrated unemployed young people who have no voice and the financiers who reap huge salaries from dealings that don't promote real economic growth.

There were also reminders at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting of political and business power players which Supachai is attending: Protesters from the Occupy movement are camped in igloos in Davos to call for more help for the needy and on Saturday three topless Ukrainian women protesters were detained trying to break into the gathering to call attention to the needs of the world's poor.

Supachai, the head of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, known as UNCTAD, said in an interview with The Associated Press that it's past time to promote economic growth that eradicates inequality.

He expressed frustration that the forum's annual meeting has been dominated by the financial crisis in Europe over the euro, which he said European politicians must resolve.

Whatever the leaders may be doing to find financial solutions, Supachai said “I think financial solutions are not lasting solutions.”

The more important problem is tackling inequality and disparity — an issue he said he has been pushing since he first came to the forum in this Swiss ski resort in 1987.

“I kept telling people … I predict in the next decade inequality will worsen and there will be no way that humankind can tackle the issue, because I don't know if we have the means or the wherewithal,” Supachai said. “I'm going to say again now that it's going to worsen again because … people are distracted by the European issue, the financial crisis.”

While the world may be able to reduce the number of people living below the poverty line, the inequality gap will grow with more rich people, more poor people, and no middle class, he said.

“Today we do everything to please the financial markets and you can see the financial market going and going, but they don't serve the real economy,” Supachai said. “They serve themselves. They make themselves rich.”

“This is non-inclusive growth,” he said.

What UNCTAD advocates is inclusive economic growth that embraces all people — especially the poor, unemployed and marginalized — and eradicates inequality, he said.

Supachai said governments must put jobs into every project they do and promote equality for women, inclusive development and sustainable economic growth. He said there should also be a simple, traditional banking system that can finance trade, help people save and get loans, and do short-term financing.

Supachai said the issue of inequality will be at the center of UNCTAD's next conference in Doha, Qatar, from April 21-26 on the theme moving away from finance-led globalization to development-centered globalization.

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