UN officials say impoverished countries are breeding grounds for terrorism and armed conflict. They are highlighting this link as they press for major new commitments in development assistance for poor countries. UN correspondent Robert McMahon looks at how organizers of a global development conference to be held in March are seeking to galvanize support for eradicating poverty at a time when globalization is seen as having far more than economic consequences.
United Nations, 15 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- An extraordinary gathering of trade officials and financial and development experts will meet at a UN-sponsored conference in March to fix a plan for triggering growth in the developing world.
The conference, to be held in Monterrey, Mexico, features a rare grouping of officials from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization, as well as representatives of the private sector and civil society. Many countries will be represented by finance and foreign ministers.
UN officials call it one of the year's most important meetings. They began a final preparatory session this week with an appeal for nations to focus on their pledge to reduce poverty. The UN Millennium Summit's final document included a commitment from member states to cut in half the number of impoverished people by the year 2015.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told delegates yesterday that to accomplish this goal, official development assistance must double to $100 billion per year. He recommended that the countries meeting at Monterrey set that assistance figure as a target, to be achieved within three years. Otherwise, he said, the goal of drastic poverty reduction will not be taken seriously.
Annan also called on developing nations to embark on the reforms necessary to attract foreign investment. One major step forward in this regard, he said, would be if states represented at Monterrey agreed to conclude a comprehensive international convention against corruption. He said such a convention should provide for the repatriation of illegally transferred funds.
The administrator of the UN Development Program, Mark Malloch Brown, in his remarks yesterday, spoke of a chance for a "grand global bargain" to be reached in Monterrey. He referred to the heightened sense of interdependence brought about by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
"Out of that sense of urgency born in the ashes of the World Trade Center buildings here in New York on September 11 comes an unexpected opportunity to build a real partnership, a real bargain, a real contract between governments of North and South and peoples of North and South," Brown said.
The Netherlands' minister for development cooperation, Eveline Herfkens, also promoted the notion of a compact between rich and poor nations. Speaking at yesterday's session, she urged richer nations to pay higher levels of official development assistance and said donors should show more flexibility in dealing with countries that have taken proper steps in development reform. Herfkens said there is a rising awareness that the developed nations cannot afford to neglect any region of the world.
"After the terrorist attacks here, all of us worldwide are more aware than ever that we are all very interdependent, that we can't isolate ourselves and safeguard peace and democracy and stability and prosperity just in our little enclaves," Herfkens said.
Previous UN planning sessions have underlined several key areas to be addressed at Monterrey. They include mobilizing economic resources within countries, ensuring fair trade regimes, addressing debt relief, and making sure poorer nations are represented more fairly in international decision-making bodies.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, told delegates that Washington believes the emphasis at the conference should be on developing domestic resources. Negroponte said that data from the past 40 years shows that countries that have improved their economic growth and development have done so through improving their economic policy and openness to trade.
"This means a commitment to increased private investment, increased institutional capacity, political and economic stability, regulatory transparency, and a level playing field for all market participants," Negroponte said.
UN Secretary-General Annan said he believes there is room for progress on all the main issues highlighted for Monterrey. But to keep the focus on the conference, he announced he has appointed two special envoys to help rally support: Michel Camdessus, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund; and Trevor Manuel, the current South African finance minister.
Manuel repeated Annan's call for sharp increases in official development assistance. But he also acknowledged U.S. concerns about the potential for international funds to be abused or mismanaged: "We must convince the world that no part of the resources applied will be wasted and we must do our level best to entice the private sector to understand that judicious investment decisions are necessary for lasting peace."
U.S. Ambassador Negroponte said the United States recognizes the special need of some countries in development assistance -- Afghanistan being a recent example. But he said official development assistance has the greatest impact on countries committed to good governance.