By Thalif DeenInter Press Service
October 3, 2005
Less than two weeks after the much-ballyhooed U.N. summit meeting of some 170 political leaders, the world's 132 developing nations want to sustain the pressure on rich donor nations to deliver on their promises.
"The 2005 world summit outcome can at best be described as a bag of mixed results," says Jamaican Foreign Minister Keith Desmond Knight, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing nations. "We have to identify how to take our countries forward in this difficult international economic environment," he told a ministerial meeting of the Group. Jamaica, which completes its one-year term as chair of the Group of 77 in December, will be succeeded by South Africa in January next year.
In a post-summit statement last week, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed his hopes and misgivings. "We all know that the summit did not achieve everything that we hoped for. But it did achieve important progress, across a broad front, not least on development." "Our task now," he said, "is to implement what was agreed, and I look forward to the Group of 77 playing an active and constructive role in that process." Annan said there are "very important commitments" that came out of the summit, which was intended to assess progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed in 2000.
The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in poverty and hunger; universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; the promotion of gender equality; and the reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. The summit process, Annan pointed out, "clearly created stronger support" for 0.7 percent of gross national product as official development assistance from rich to poorer nations. As a result, Annan said, there will be tens of billions of dollars earmarked for the fight for development. Additionally, "innovative sources of financing" -- including a tax on airline tickets -- should begin to come on stream by next year. "And we now have clear support for quick impact initiatives, such as the free distribution of malaria bed nets, expansion of school meal programmes, and the elimination of user fees for primary schooling and health services," he said.
On all these promises, Annan warned, "the key is early and effective delivery. We have a very big job ahead to make the summit outcome meaningful in the lives of the peoples of the world." He also called for cancellation of 100 percent of both official and bilateral debt of all Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC), "and significant debt relief for other countries with an unsustainable debt burden". The 18 HIPCs are Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
Over the weekend, both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed that the debts owed by these countries will be cancelled outright. The original decision on debt cancellation was taken about three months ago by the Group of Eight (G8) countries -- the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Japan and Russia.
Speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, Knight said he wants donor nations to meet commitments they made before, during and after the summit, including debt write-offs, increase in official development assistance, changing international trade rules, encouraging investments in poorer nations, access to technology, and strengthening participation of developing countries in international economic decision-making. "How can we ensure that there are no reversals?" Knight asked. "And how can we ensure that the agreements are taken forward with the required urgency?"
South African President Thabo Mbeki was equally forthright. "How serious is the developed world about the partnership to address (the eradication of) poverty?" he asked at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting. The meeting, which was organised by former U..S. President Bill Clinton, took place during the U.N. summit Sep. 14-16. Mbeki was particularly critical of both the United States and the 25-member European Union, which are playing a waiting game on demands for removing the agricultural subsidies that threaten the livelihood of farmers in the world's poorer nations. The United States has said it would eliminate farm subsidies if the EU did so. "So nothing moves," Mbeki said, as both the EU and the United States are blaming each other for doing nothing.
According to a paper prepared by the Malaysia-based Third World Network, the EU's 40-billion-dollar a year subsidy for cereals, dairy products and sugar "drives African farmers to poverty". Meanwhile, the 4-billion-dollar subsidy by the United States to 25,000 cotton farmers has lowered world prices of cotton by a quarter. As a result, says the Third World Network, West African countries lost 4.2 billion dollars in foreign exchange and the region's 11 million cotton producing households suffered increased poverty. Additionally, sugar produced in Europe is twice as expensive as sugar produced in South Africa, but it is the European sugar that is pushing out local sugar in South Africa. While Europe provides about 200 million euros in aid, South Africa loses about 100 million euros in potential earnings.
The question of farm subsidies and inequities in international trade rules are expected to come up at the ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Hong Kong in December. This will be the first key meeting -- relating to the development agenda -- subsequent to the recently-concluded U.N. summit. This meeting, says Knight, is the forum to make decisions on the global trading regime. "What can we do, as developing countries, to get a more satisfactory outcome from Hong Kong?" he asked.
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