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World: 'Spirit' Of UN's Monterrey Summit To Be Tested

  • Robert McMahon

Thousands of delegates from government, civil society, and the private sector have left Mexico's northern city of Monterrey pledging to help unlock resources for the rehabilitation of the world's poor countries. Immediate reactions to the conference were mixed, with some non-governmental organizations saying it failed to signal any major changes in the policy of rich nations. But government delegates were generally optimistic that poverty reduction is back on the agenda of the developed world.

Monterrey, Mexico; 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A Mexican fiesta complete with mariachi band seemed a fitting way to wrap up a week-long United Nations conference in which a new dedication to the poor -- a "spirit of Monterrey" -- was proclaimed by many of the government delegates attending.

The Monterrey conference ended on 22 March with the adoption of a consensus document committing nations to previously stated goals of halving world poverty by 2015. The document calls for new efforts at providing debt relief to the world's poorest states, increasing the quality and quantity of development aid, and permitting more products from the developing world to reach wealthier markets.

Mexican President Vicente Fox told reporters after a retreat with heads of state and government on 22 March that there was a new sense of shared responsibility to help the poor: "The spirit of Monterrey represents a change in the tone in this debate. This is a very important high point in the agenda of development."

Foreign aid levels have dropped sharply since the end of the Cold War. Some governments believed that globalization and the increased flow of trade across international borders would prove more effective than government aid.

But many of the Monterrey delegates said a combination of aid and trade was still required. Even the U.S. government -- the biggest skeptic regarding the effectiveness of international development assistance -- promised to increase aid to countries that meet U.S. standards of reform.

U.S. President George W. Bush, days prior to the conference, pledged to increase U.S. foreign aid to $15 billion a year by 2006, compared with its current level of $10 billion. The European Union has also said it would increase foreign aid by $7 billion a year. Together, that would bring foreign aid from rich countries to a total of over $60 billion a year.

That sum, however, still falls short of the $100 billion international development agencies say is needed to help improve conditions for the hundreds of millions of people living on less than $1 a day.

But international leaders in Monterrey welcomed the new aid commitments. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his address to the conference summit, noted the impact of the 11 September terrorist attacks: "You have realized, as more and more of your fellow citizens are realizing, that we live in one world not two, that no one in this world can feel comfortable or safe while so many are suffering and deprived."

The Monterrey consensus calls for debt relief measures to be pursued "vigorously and expeditiously." It urges members of the World Trade Organization to carry through their agenda drawn up in Doha, Qatar, in November to remove key trade barriers.

And it stresses the importance of establishing sound economic policies, political institutions and transparency to help build and sustain development. It says fighting corruption at all levels should be a priority. UN and U.S. officials say they expect the conference to give a boost to global efforts to fight corruption.

Some say the UN Security Council resolution mandating the cutoff of terrorist funding will help in the fight against money laundering. But some civil society representatives in Monterrey objected that the consensus document reflects too much the interest of rich nations.

David Ugolor is president of the African Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Nigeria. He told an NGO panel that Monterrey appeared to be another opportunity for rich nations to lecture the poor on corruption without identifying the scope of the problem.

Ugolor said more attention needs to be given to the role of multinational firms from the developed world. He cited banks that provide accounts for corrupt African leaders or oil companies doing business with military regimes: "How do you put your house in order in a country where you have a pocket of rich men who have so many riches that they are richer than their [own] country, [with money] in Swiss banks, in private banks. It's not possible. So one must look into these issues."

Business representatives who attended the conference, meanwhile, were busy holding workshops on issues such as good governance or discussing the importance of micro-credit programs.

The Business Council of the United Nations sponsored a panel exploring the reform paths of five nations -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, South Korea, Mexico, and Poland. The common link between all five countries was that economic growth began as soon as institutional reforms were in place. They stressed that foreign investment only increased when laws were in place ensuring protection and fair treatment for investors.

Petr Prochazka, a Czech official responsible for relations with the European Union and international organizations, emphasized the importance of attracting direct foreign investment. He said firms with such investors are responsible for two-thirds of Czech exports and have twice as much productivity as purely domestic enterprises. Prochazka told the panel of the positive impact of German automaker Volkswagen since its heavy investment in the Czech automaker Skoda.

"Sixty-four percent of subcontractors are of Czech origin, which are then supplying goods not only to Skoda, the domestic car producer, but also to Skoda-Germany to sell in Spain, to Audi in Germany, et cetera. So [foreign direct investment] has a very good effect on exports, and employment as well, in this respect," Prochazka said.

The five countries on the panel appear to be models of sustained growth. Mexico has been registering steady increases in exports and foreign direct investment in recent years. The Czech Republic, Poland, and Estonia are all front-line candidates to join the European Union in 2004. They are also "emerging donors" and provide important technical advice to other former communist states in transition. South Korea, one of the world's poorest countries in the 1950s, now has the 11th-largest economy in the world and is a significant source of foreign aid.