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UN: Members Adopt Antipoverty Plan, While Central Europeans Offer Advice

Monterrey, Mexico, 25 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- On 22 March, members of the United Nations adopted a plan to combat poverty, combining a commitment to provide more aid, foreign investment, and freer trade rules to countries that stick with reforms.

The adoption of the "Monterrey Consensus" came on the final day of the first development summit attended by heads of state, international lending bodies, business leaders, and civil society activists.

U.S. President George W. Bush, speaking earlier today, affirmed that his government is committed to fighting poverty, both as a humanitarian impulse and as a way of undermining terrorism.

But he said aid without conditions would do little to help the poor countries of the world: "We must tie greater aid to political and legal and economic reforms, and by insisting on reform we do the work of compassion."

Leaders of underdeveloped nations acknowledged the importance of domestic reforms in laying the foundation for sustained development. But they also called for changes in the way the world's richer countries administer assistance.

Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev told the summit his country, Europe's poorest, was committed to taking the tough economic and political steps needed to permit aid and investment. But he called for greater flexibility by international lenders.

"In this context, we would wish that the donor nations in assessing the activities of national governments in this sphere, would show greater understanding of the specifics and the numerous social problems which we encounter in our democratic but still struggling nations," Tarlev said.

Both Tarlev and Armenia's prime minister, Andranik Markarian, said they hope a greater international engagement in development issues can extend to resolving regional conflicts. Armenia's dispute with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh and Moldova's unresolved dispute with separatists in Transdniester have stunted the economic development of both countries.

Meanwhile, three Central European nations offered advice to lesser developed countries on how to reach what they termed "middle-income" status.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and Slovak Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Miklos told the conference that developing nations must form clear national strategies for poverty reduction. Consistent reforms policies, they said, will open the door to foreign aid and investment.

Kavan also made a reference to the Czech Republic's controversial voucher privatization plan in the early 1990s: "The experience of our country as well as some other countries from our region shows how important coherence, credibility, and appropriate sequencing of respective policies are. For instance, privatization which is not preceded by establishment of adequate legal, regulatory, and institutional framework can lead to economic losses with negative social implications."

Estonian Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland stressed the importance of devising a detailed economic reform plan before moving to implementation. She said politicians must show the political will to follow through despite inevitable bumps on the reform path.

"That commitment may also require the making of choices and decisions that may at the moment be not popular with the populace. These unpopular decisions and resulting measures would probably include the elimination of all so-called black market trade, the enforcement of all legislation regulating business and trade and the fight against corruption," Ojuland said.

Kavan, Miklos, and Ojuland all noted that their countries are now "emerging donors" to lesser developed countries. The Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Estonia are all candidates to join the European Union during its expected expansion in 2004.