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7867: OECD Meeting on Sustainable Development (fwd)
From: Max Blanchet <email@example.com>
The paradox of the richest and
the poorest countries Proximity
By ROBERT E. SULLIVAN
© Earth Times News Service
BRUSSELS -- While the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development) commonly known as the "rich man's club" of 30 richest countries
in the world confers on sustainable development in Paris, paradoxically,
another meeting is taking place simultaneously, only some hundred miles away
in Brussels comprising the world's poorest 48 countries! It is the United
Nations' Third Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs), scheduled to
run from May 14 through May 20.
At the European Commission, which is hosting the conference, people say they
are pinning their hopes on "targeting" aid to help them avoid the
acknowledged failures of the two previous conferences. With the benefit of
hindsight, people say those conferences, held in Paris in 1981 and 1990, set
few concrete goals for themselves -- and reached even fewer.
Indeed, after each conference the number of LDCs increased. The list of LDCs
has grown from 24 countries in 1971 to 48 today, with a population of more
than 600 million. Only one country, Botswana, has ever "graduated" from the
Hugo-Maria Schally, a policy specialist for the European Commission, told
The Earth Times that, before European nations got serious about "targeting"
their aid efforts, they were handing out "too much money" to help poor
"We had no overall statement of priorities for the European community before
we began to prioritize. We had too many things going at too many places at
the same time. We had too much money out there, too dispersed over too many
projects in relation to our human resources. We didn't act in coordination.
It was 'the flavor of the day,'" he said.
Not any more, he said. For the past few years the commission has been
working on a system that targets money to specific areas and avoids overlap
between the EU's collective effort and the bilateral aid given out by
individual member states. Neither effort is inconsiderable. In aggregate,
the 15 members provide about $50 billion in aid every year-about five times
what the United States provides -- and the Brussels-based European Union
delivers an additional $10 billion (roughly the same as the US aid budget).
"But 60 or so percent of the US money goes to Egypt and Israel," Schally
said, "while the European Commission's aid is truly global."
The new targeting guidelines were decided last December and are to be
implemented starting with the LDC meeting. Schally said the EU would
concentrate on facilitating regional integration, especially in Africa, and
on infrastructure development -- transportation, information and
telecommunications -- and harmonization of laws.
When legislation in one country resembles legislation in neighboring
countries, Schally said, "people can do business."
As for regional integration, he said, "To this day it is still sometimes
easier to fly from some parts of East Africa to West Africa by going through
Paris than it is to fly within the region. Also, it is easier to export to
Europe than it is to export within the region," he said.
It's difficult for these countries to reduce tariff barriers, he said, since
some of them rely for their entire budgets on what they get from customs.
He said that in some cases the commission would provide cash to make up for
losses in customs income, at least temporarily, but recipient countries
would have to give assurances that it would be used to help the poor.
Commission members are particularly proud of the recent decision to reduce
or eliminate tariffs on imports from LDCs of "everything but arms." The
decision was announced in anticipation of the LDC meeting, according to
Francisco Granell, chief adviser to the EC.
"It is groundbreaking stuff," said Michael Curtis, an EC spokesman, "and
we'll be urging the US, Japan and Canada to follow our lead."
Of particular interest to the union, said Schally's colleague, Giovanni
Mastrogiacomo, who Development Directorate, is the concept of recipient
countries' ownership of the development programs.
On the other hand, he said, "The member states will concentrate on areas
where they have a proven track record -- for instance in human rights and
the rule of law." And now, in time for the conference, the commission has
developed a system of strategy papers for every country receiving any aid
from the European Community. In those papers the needs and approaches are
clearly defined, he said, and member countries can coordinate aid in such a
way as to avoid overlaps or conflicts.
"We say clearly what we're planning to do and what we are not planning to
do," he said. "We think that the changes we have made over the past two
years enable us to better face the needs of the poorest countries," he said.
In a newly revised format, the conference is to spend only one third of its
time on traditional intergovernmental negotiations on a plan of action.
According to Habib Ouane, Chief of the Office of the Secretary General of
the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which is
sponsoring the meeting, "The second track will be built around what we call
'thematic interactive sessions,' to elicit concrete commitments by major
stakeholders in the process, particularly development partners from the
industrial countries and some advanced developing countries, as well as the
All of them are expected to come up with ideas and proposals on concrete
issues such as trade, infrastructure development and human resource
development, he said.
"The third track we call 'parallel events and thematic roundtables,' the
purpose of which is also to stimulate the adoption of concrete commitments,"
he said. The events are to include exchanges among mayors; parliamentarians
from around the world meeting in side conferences; digital experts
discussing future possibilities, and nongovernmental groups working on their
"They will exchange their experiences and eventually launch initiatives
aimed at supporting the LDCs," he said.
"With this architecture we hope that the conference will be a result-based
conference," Ouane said, "a conference that will, I hope, provide an
opportunity to reduce if not remedy the credibility gap which has affected
the process of implementation of the two previous programs of actions for
LIST OF LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRIES:
Central African Republic
Sao Tome and Principe
LDC Home Page http://www.unctad.org/en/subsites/ldcs/ldc11.htm
Trade related assistance for LDCs http://www.ldcs.org/
Development Research and Policy Analysis Division
Third UN conference on LDCs http://www.un.org/events/ldc3/conference/