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A BETTER WORLD FOR WHOM?

by Roberto Bissio*

Geneva, 23June 2000 (TWN) -- Highlighted as “an  unprecedented collaborative effort of the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development", a report on poverty in the world is being launched on 26 June in Geneva by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

While the final version of the “Better World for All” report had not yet been distributed (at the time of writing), a “proof copy” dated May 27 has been posted by the OECD on its web site. Copies of that version have been in circulation and it has raised advanced criticism among development NGOs.

“Why should the UN Secretary-General publish a joint report with  donor countries (OECD/DAC), the IMF and the World Bank and not with the Group of 77?” asked Martin Khor, Director of the Third World Network during an official dialogue meeting between NGOs and the board of the UN Development Programme held in Geneva on 21 June.

The statement that “developing countries have to lower their tariffs and other trade barriers and streamline their systems for the flow of imports, exports and finance” seems to contradict the conclusions of the Human Development Report 2000 that will be launched worldwide next Friday the 30th.

While that report is under embargo, draft versions of it has also been the subject of some wide consultations and its broad thrust is known.  Focusing on human rights, the UNDP report this year will highlight the inequities of the global economy as an obstacle to the realization of rights and the marginalization of many least developed countries from the globalization process.

The contradictory views of two major UN reports launched in the  same week are likely to stir debate during the Special Session of  the UN General Assembly that meets in Geneva next week to discuss implementation of the anti-poverty commitments made by the heads of state during the World Summit on Social Development held in 1995 in Copenhagen.

The World Bank, in turn, is facing controversy around its soon to be launched “World Development Report”, focusing this year, precisely on poverty. Ravi Kanbur, a lead author of the report  tendered his resignation two weeks ago expressing concerns about  what he saw as unreasonable pressure to tone down WDR sections on globalisation. NGO sources in Washington indicate that US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has got directly involved in re-writing the globalisation sections of this report, which is likely to be extremely prominent in future discussions of international issues and in guiding aid interventions.

The Social Watch coalition of NGOs monitoring the follow-up of the “Social Summit” has criticized “major distortions of the letter and spirit” of the Copenhagen resolutions in the Better World for All report, including an attempt to present targets set unilaterally by donor countries at the OECD as internationally agreed goals.

While the Social Summit called on all governments (including those of the developed countries) to eradicate poverty, as defined by national and regional standards, the “Better World” report equates “extreme poverty” with an income of less than one dollar a day and only produces statistics and recommendations for developing countries and transition economies.

The Human Development Report, on the other hand, promotes a “human poverty” measure  that combines many non-income-related indicators and produces poverty measures for OECD member countries also.

Development NGOs present in Geneva to follow the social development discussions of the General Assembly point to the heavy emphasis of the “Better World for All” report on controversial policy recommendations for developing countries - privatizations, opening up of their economies to foreign trade and investment and even to financial flows.

None of these find a base in the agreed texts of the UN  conferences that the document quotes as its source of inspiration.  On the other hand, internationally agreed commitments of developed countries to increase their aid, reduce the debt burden of  developing countries and open their markets to products of interest to developing countries are only mentioned in footnotes or in vague references as to what donors could do to contribute.

In the speeches and discussions of NGOs, during their parallel conference here this week on globalization, the report has already been dubbed as the “Bretton Woods for All” report.

(*Roberto Bissio is the Coordinator of the Social Watch, an international coalition of NGOs which has been monitoring the progress of countries in implementing the commitments of governments undertaken at the Copenhagen Social Summit)

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