By Sophie Hares
TEPIC, Mexico, April 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Efforts to create jobs and cut poverty in Latin America risk stalling because of low investment rates in the region, despite its economies inching back to growth, a top U.N. official has warned.
Increased trade and cooperation among Latin American and Caribbean nations - alongside a shift to green policies and higher technology use - are crucial for them to meet global development goals, the first gathering of a regional forum on the issue heard this week.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals, agreed by governments in 2015, aim to end poverty and hunger by 2030, and tackle climate change and inequality, among other challenges.
Alicia Barcena, executive secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), noted that unemployment is on the rise in the region.
"There are risks of social deterioration... and as public spending and economic activity reduces, we're afraid there will be a stagnation in poverty reduction," said Barcena.
"By 2030, we have to take 75 million people out of extreme poverty," she told the Mexico City forum. "Zero is the only acceptable level of poverty."
Low rates of investment, structural gaps and limited productivity gains are causing concern, despite the region's prudent macroeconomic management, she said.
Following two years of economic contraction, she forecast a rise of just over 1 percent in GDP for the region in 2017, with Mexico and Central America seeing a 2.3 percent increase while South America was tipped to gain 0.6 percent.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said the 2030 development agenda was key to building fairer societies and promoting sustainable economic development in the region, which he underlined as the world's most unequal.
"Poverty, injustice and discrimination are still appalling realities in our societies," he told the forum.
Global uncertainty, alongside economic, social and political upheaval, are threats, he added, calling for greater regional cooperation and integration to achieve the development goals.
"Not only is there the risk of failing to meet the objectives we have laid out, but that some of the most important commitments that we made as an international community are abandoned," the president said.
Citing a rise in protectionism and intolerance, ECLAC's Barcena called for an open, multilateral system to achieve sustainable development and avoid tensions between countries.
States should craft policies that are more compatible with equal societies and environmental protection, she said.
"The biggest market failure of all times has been climate change, and therefore, we need international cooperation - regional and global governance mechanisms to prevent conflict (and) reduce inequality," she said.
In its first annual report on the region's progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, ECLAC highlighted a rise in the unemployment rate and self-employment as areas for concern, alongside the impacts of falling investment in the region which already has high levels of people working informally.
It urged the region, which has seen an increase in extreme weather events, to invest more in renewable energy, and flagged concerns environmental standards could be undermined if the sluggish economic outlook prompts national efforts to attract more investment in mining industries.
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(Reporting by Sophie Hares; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/)
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