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UN: Annan Urges Industrialized Countries To Honor Aid Pledge

The United Nations this week is sponsoring its third development conference, following previous gatherings in 1986 and 1990. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened the conference in Brussels, saying that it is up to industrialized countries to increase aid and open their markets. RFE/RL correspondent Mark Baker reports that participants will be looking for ways to ensure that at least some of the world's growing wealth makes it way to the poorest countries, following a decade of global prosperity during which the poorest countries mostly only got poorer.

Brussels, 14 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called on the industrialized countries to honor an earlier commitment to provide aid to the world's poorest countries.

Speaking this morning in Brussels to open a week-long UN conference on poverty, Annan said the developed world had largely failed to live up to an earlier pledge to give 0.7 percent of their collective Gross National Product (GNP) in aid. He says aid levels as a whole have reached only 0.2 percent of GNP:

"The developed countries have long committed themselves on paper to giving 0.7 percent of their gross national product to development aid, and we heard [French] President [Jacques] Chirac talk about this. Very few [countries] have lived up to that pledge, while the developed world as a whole has reached only 0.2 percent."

Representatives of the world's 49 poorest countries, along with top UN, European Union, and international officials, are meeting this week in the Belgian capital to consider ways to ensure that the world's least developed countries share in the global economic boom.

The conference, jointly sponsored by the UN and the European Union, is the third such gathering, following meetings in 1986 and 1990. Since the last conference, the number of countries considered by the UN to be "very poor" has risen to 49 from 25, while much of the industrialized world has enjoyed unprecedented prosperity.

Officials say they will be looking at ways both to increase trade with poor countries and to raise aid levels.

Annan said that while more aid is necessary, the best hope for the least developed countries lies in attracting investment and fostering trade. He pointed out that industrialized countries still maintain relatively high tariffs on many of the agricultural products, raw materials, and textiles that poor countries rely on for their livelihood.

He called for a new round of trade talks that would, he said, focus on the needs of lesser-developed countries:

"I believe that the best hope for LDCs (least developed countries) and indeed for the developing world in general lies in a new round of global, multilateral trade negotiations. And this time it must be a true development round. The round must aim to eliminate all tariff and non-tariff barriers in the developed countries to trade in agricultural products, textiles, and other products of interest to the LDCs."

Annan says the industrialized -- what he called the "more fortunate" -- countries would stand to gain as well from more trade:

"More fortunate countries have every reason to open their markets to products from the LDCs. Their consumers will benefit from wider choice and lower prices. Their industries will benefit from the competition. And by allowing poor people in poor countries to make an honest living, [the richer countries] would contribute to a fairer and more stable world order."

European Commission President Romano Prodi told the conference that economic development and globalization in the past decade had largely failed to narrow the gap between the world's richest and poorest countries:

"Globalization and new technologies have become [a] driving force. As a result, life has improved, but the gap between rich and poor nations has widened dramatically."

Prodi likened poverty to cancer. He told the group that it is within the power of the industrialized world to remove the cancer and that the developed countries have what he called a "duty and responsibility" to do so.

This week, officials are also likely to discuss the growing problem of AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in the least developed countries.

Annan said only one country, Botswana, had managed to free itself from the list of the poorest countries in the past decade, but he said that accomplishment has largely been eliminated by the spread of AIDS. He said Botswana now has one of the highest AIDS infection rates in the world.

Annan said he has made combating AIDS and HIV his personal priority:

"Indeed in much of Africa, AIDS is far more than a health crisis, it has become not only the biggest cause of death but the number-one development challenge. And the same may soon be true in several countries of Asia too. At present I am making this challenge my personal priority."

The 49 countries regarded by the UN as the world's poorest were chosen based on their respective income levels as well as life expectancy, education, and literacy rates.

Most of the 49 (34) are in Africa, including Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Sudan. There are nine countries in Asia, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Laos.

The five in the Pacific are Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, and in the Caribbean, Haiti.

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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.