Although there appears to be no risk of a serious crisis such as the ones suffered in the eighties, the end of the nineties and the beginning of the 2000s, the current downturn seems to augur future scenarios of lower growth. This implies that the labor market will be less dynamic and could stop contributing to the reduction of poverty and inequality. Between 2012 and 2013, poverty dropped just 0.3% in Latin America, affecting 164 million people, while extreme poverty rose 0.2%.
Compounding the international situation, some endogenous problems restrict regional development, such as a disjointed and lagging production structure, high levels of informal work, insufficient investment rates with limited incorporation of technical progress, weak governance of natural resources, lacking public services, and major environmental and energy pressures.
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean  (ECLAC) believes the response to this crossroads must involve the building of national accords around different aspects of development, under one guiding ethical principle and ultimate goal: the equal rights of all people.
We sustain that medium- and long-term social compacts are needed in areas such as taxation and industrial policy, the working world and the provision of public goods, and the governance of natural resources and environmental sustainability, which is at risk today due to production and consumption patterns that pollute.
These proposals are detailed in the book “Compacts for Equality: Towards a Sustainable Future ,” which ECLAC presented at its Thirty-fifth session on May 5-9 in Lima, Peru. At this biennial meeting—which is the organization’s most important gathering—we invite countries to discuss how to make these social pacts for equality and environmental sustainability a reality.
This new document is part of the so-called equality trilogy that the Commission has published since 2010. First we indicated that the time for equality had come, under the maxim of “growing to boost equality and boosting equality to grow”; later we contended that a structural change was needed in regional economies to move towards that equality.
In other words, we ask countries to implement processes of productive transformation based on promoting sectors that are more intensive in knowledge and innovation, with fewer internal and external gaps in income and productivity. That is because we know that employment with rights is the key to growth with equality.
Today we take another step forward by proposing political instruments that will enable the implementation—in a democratic context—of the institutional policies and reforms that Latin American and Caribbean countries need to ensure the well-being of its population. Social compacts for equality are especially important at a crossroads like the one that we currently foresee, where the deceleration of growth will demand daring policy decisions on taxes, investment and social safety nets. Let’s not waste the opportunity to build a sustainable future for all men and women.
*Alicia Bárcena is the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and a member of the Advisory Committee of the Latin American Development Forum series.