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Style over substance: the U.N.'s Monterrey conference provides plenty of ground for criticism. (Spotlight).

Although the U.N. International Conference on Financing for Development held in Monterrey, Mexico, stirred up high expectations for increased steps to ensure that developing countries benefit from the global economy, the actual summit left much to be desired. Since the consensus text had been safely agreed on two months earlier, there was not much left to discuss or debate. In search of interesting coverage, the massive press contingent turned the spotlight towards the few so-called anti-globalists, and to Cuban President Fidel Castro, who staged his own little diplomatic show.

BRIDGING THE DIVIDE

Closing the gap between rich and poor was the goal of the Millenium Declaration, a very ambitious plan drawn up by the United Nations in September 2000. By 2015, the aim is to halve the number of people who live on less than a dollar a day, ensure elementary education for all children, provide equal opportunities for both sexes in schools, cut the number of deaths related to child birth by two thirds, provide access to reproductive healthcare for all, and halve the number of people lacking access to drinking water. The World Bank estimated it will cost US$55 billion to meet the declaration's goals.

The United Nations appointed former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo to mobilize the resources required to meet its goals. Zedillo called for a conference in Monterrey to discuss possible financial tools including domestic resources, private capital flows, trade, debt reduction and most important, official development aid (ODA).

According to Jan Pronk, the UN official in charge of organizing the Johannesburg conference on sustainable development scheduled for September, the Monterrey summit was a success because of "renewed pledges by the developed countries to increase their ODA to poor countries."

"Days before the conference, the European Union member states declared an increase in their aid contribution to 0.39% gross domestic product (GDP) by 2010," says Pronk. "The U.S. then promised an increase of US$5 billion in ODA. Before this summit, there was a downward trend in official aid, a trend which now has been reversed," he said.

THANKS BUT NO THANKS

In spite of the increase in development aid, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had hoped for more: Originally, the Monterrey draft consensus included an obligatory increase to 0.7% of GDP for all developed countries, a commitment that in the final Monterrey consensus was watered down to say, "We urge developed countries that have not done so to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7% of GDP as ODA to developing countries."

Many NGO's blame the Bush administration, which reportedly applied pressure during the preceding round tables in New York to make the ODA paragraph non-compulsory, threatening to stay away from the Monterrey meeting. The U.S. position was backed by the Mexican government, which feared a summit without Bush would be no summit at all.

Washington, on the other hand, argues that quality is more important that quantity in the aid bidding race. Bush said, before the summit, "that it doesn't make sense to send aid to corrupt countries, since the money ends up with the political elite," reported a Mexico City daily.

As a result of the emphasis on official aid, other financial instruments to boost development, like debt relief and taxation of capital flows (a.k.a. the Tobin tax), were barely addressed at the Monterrey conference, and were left out of the final consensus.

Tom Dieusaert is a Mexico City-based freelance writer and correspondent for a Belgian daily.
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Author:Dieusaert, Tom
Publication:Business Mexico
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:May 1, 2002
Words:583
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