Friday, September 05, 2008

International Development: Trade and aid are still major barriers to achieving the anti-poverty goals

Trade and aid are still major barriers to achieving the anti-poverty goals that countries committed themselves to achieving by 2015, despite significant progress in debt relief for the poorest States, according to a United Nations report launched today by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The report – “Delivering on the Global Partnership for Achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)” – was prepared by the MDG Gap Task Force, created by Mr. Ban to track global commitments on aid, trade and debt, and to follow progress on access to essential medicines and technology.

Released ahead of a high-level event on the MDGs to be convened by Mr. Ban in New York on 25 September, the report finds that donors will need to boost their development assistance by $18 billion a year between now and 2010 if they are to meet the pledges they made in 2000 to halve poverty and other socio-economic ills.

“This report sounds a strong alarm,” Mr. Ban told a news conference in New York. “While there has been progress on several counts, delivery on commitments made by Member States has been deficient, and has fallen behind schedule.”

The report states that though donor countries have stepped up official development assistance (ODA) since 2000, aid flows have actually declined in recent years – by 4.7 per cent in 2006 and a further 8.4 per cent in 2007.

In addition, the recent breakdown of the Doha development round of trade negotiations – aimed at establishing an open, equitable, rule-based and non-discriminatory multilateral trading and financial system – was “a major setback” for developing countries seeking to benefit from expanding global trade opportunities to reduce poverty.

According to the report, only 79 per cent of exports from least developed countries are given duty-free access to the markets of developed countries, well short of the target set in 2005 of 97 per cent. In addition, there has only been a mild reduction of tariffs on agriculture exports.

While there has been progress on debt relief, the report cites the need for further action, noting that in 2006, 52 developing countries spent more on debt service than on public health and 10 spent more on debt service than on education.

Also, while access to medicines to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis has improved, the availability of affordable essential medicines is still far from adequate. In addition, wide variations in pricing mean that essential medicines – including antibiotics and painkillers – are often unavailable to the poor.

The report recommends eliminating national taxes and duties on essential medicines, as well as adopting generic substitution policies for essential medicines.

Regarding technology, the report says developing countries have unprecedented access to new information and communication technology (ICT), with over 77 per cent of the population able to receive a mobile cellular telephone signal, up from 46 per cent in 2001.

However, the digital divide between developed and developing countries continues to widen for technologies such as broadband internet connection, the report adds, noting that more than 30 per cent of people in the developing world are still living without electricity.

The report calls for urgent action on MDG 8, which focuses on the global partnership to support the other seven Goals – ranging from reducing illiteracy to improving maternal health and improving access to safe water and sanitation – if the anti-poverty targets are to be achieved.

With only seven years left until the 2015 deadline, the Secretary-General stressed that concerted action has never been more important. “We are already in the second half of our contest against poverty. We are running out of time,” he stated.

Ad Melkert, Associate Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and chair of the Task Force, recalled recent findings by the World Bank showing that the number of people living in absolute poverty globally is estimated to be 500 million higher than previously assumed.

“This serves as a reminder that the relentless focus on the facts on the ground is key to maintaining the momentum of the Millennium Goals campaign,” he stated.

He also emphasized the “indispensability” of a larger commitment by the rich world towards MDG 8, which he said is “essentially the signature to the contract for development between the rich and the poor.”

Source: UN News Centre
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Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting