The Asia-Europe Meeting Forum on Social Safety Nets opened yesterday in Ha Noi to discuss the major challenges in ensuring social protection for poor and vulnerable populations and measures to foster international co-operation in response to the global economic and financial crisis.
The two-day forum, co-sponsored by the Vietnamese and Finnish governments, brought together around 150 delegates, including government officials and academics from Asian-European countries and international organisations.
Ensuring social safety nets and social protection, which include the maintenance of basic human rights such as access to education, health care, sanitation and employment opportunities amid the serious impacts of the recent global economic and financial crisis, was top of the agenda.
Addressing the forum, Viet Nam's Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan said the global economic and financial crisis, together with more frequent natural catastrophes, had threatened the lives of millions of people, causing a surge in unemployment and poverty in every nation.
She emphasised the importance of sharing experiences and lessons and enhancing co-operation among countries, especially among ASEM member states to protect the poorest and most vulnerable populations in the new global context.
"We all know that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and that each country has different social needs, development objectives and fiscal capacities to achieve them.
"Therefore, sharing experiences and lessons learned among nations is crucial as this enables us to understand why some policies may work in some contexts, but not in others," Ngan said.
For its part, Viet Nam had attached great importance to social safety nets and given high priorities to maintaining social welfare and justice along with economic development, she said.
"As a developing country with annual per capita gross income of US$1,200, we are trying to map out appropriate priorities and objectives to put in place a comprehensive social protection system and to develop approaches fully compatible with our prevailing cultural, social and economic factors," she said.
Nguyen Trong Dam, MOLISA's Deputy Minister, said Viet Nam was focusing on the basic issues of the development of human resources, vocational training and employment opportunities in implementing social safety nets.
"Secondly, Viet Nam has worked step by step to complete a social insurance system that is accessible to every citizen. We also carry out policies to mobilise resources and money for social protection programmes for the most vulnerable, including the poor, lonely elders, orphans, and disabled," he told reporters on the sidelines of the forum.
However, the country was still facing various challenges, ranging from a shortage of education and insurance to human resource incapacity, and this forum was a good opportunity for Viet Nam to learn from other countries' experiences, Dam said.
Yesterday's discussions focused on two major subjects, namely the impacts of the global crisis on social protections and social safety nets, and experiences in strengthening social protection and social safety nets.
Kristin Schreuber, a representative from the European Commission, pointed out that the global economic and financial crisis, besides its adverse impacts, had resulted in more global attention to social protection and social welfare, and also paved the way for global consent on the issue.
In sharing the European Union's experience, she said the crisis in Europe had clearly shown the important and effective role of social security in limiting the bad socio-economic consequences of the crisis. Social security, if precisely evaluated, could have positive impacts on society in terms of education, labour productivity and the participation in labour market, she said.
Participants also heard experiences from other countries, including the Netherlands, Thailand, China and Russia.
Discussions will continue today with more focus on ways to enhance international co-operation on the issue.
The forum was suggested by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung at the 8th ASEM Summit in Brussels in October 2010. — VNS