Steve Tibbett: Glib statements will not lift anyone out of poverty

Instead of a review of UN millennium goals, there was a crazy argument over the summit document
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The Independent Online

It's not all bad. The door remains open for progress in a number of areas, including debt. But the UN summit has not carried out its major task of reviewing progress on the Millennium Development Goals. The eight goals were established in 2000. One, which involves getting girls into school in the same numbers as boys, has already inevitably missed its 2005 deadline. Its failure was not even acknowledged by the conference. Seven other goals, dealing with such issues as hunger, health and education, are set for the year 2015 and remain in most cases way off track.

Instead of a much-needed review of the millennium goals by UN member states, there was a crazy argument over whether the goals should even be mentioned in the summit outcome document. The scope of the 750 amendments proposed by America's new hard-line ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, was staggering. Out went the Millennium Development Goals and in came US foreign policy goals.

Bush's offer for "free trade" is also not what it seems. He insisted that other countries must do the same, which is potentially disastrous for poor countries trying to trade their way out of poverty. What we need from world leaders are not glib statements about trade reform. Trade negotiators from poor countries report severe pressure from the US and EU to accede to demands for liberalising industrial and service sectors. This in exchange for the rich world reforming what is anyway indefensible: the dumping of under-priced agricultural goods on developing country markets.

But it is not just US backsliding that has prevented decisive action on poverty at the summit. A long list of UN reforms dominated the agenda. Important matters - but was Secretary-General Kofi Annan trying to do too much at one summit?

Our benchmarks for the summit on aid, trade, debt, education and HIV / Aids and other issues were informed by the Make Poverty History demands, and its call for a fundamental change in the way the rich world approaches development. From our standpoint, the outcome of this summit, and, to a lesser degree, the outcome of the Gleneagles G8 summit, was disappointing and frustrating.

The British government's strategy was, understandably, to protect what came out of Gleneagles. The aid money offered by the G8 to poor countries included many existing commitments, going back in some cases as far as 2002, and partly accounted for by the growing size of the economic cake.

The debt deal was partial, covering only 18 of the 60 or more countries that need it. The Aids treatment target was welcome, but had no clear resourcing plan. We saw nothing on regulating the operations of powerful multinational corporations, nothing on trade justice.

But the commitments extracted at Gleneagles are still worth defending and, though the Government did defend them, it disappointed on the rest of the Make Poverty History demands, in particular trade. The UN summit has brought us no closer to a successful outcome from December's WTO negotiations in Hong Kong.

On the thorny issue of "conditionality" the unacceptable practice of using aid as a lever to push through policies such as privatisation, Britain has rightly sought to abandon such practices, and the G8 asserted that developing countries had the right to choose their own path to development. We applaud this commitment, but Britain has not done enough to persuade other donor nations, and it's not clear where this part of the Gleneagles commitments is headed.

We are also concerned that the debt relief deal, announced by G7 finance ministers just before Gleneagles, will unravel at next weekend's annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank. Extra conditions proposed by some rich countries will need to be dealt with if the political commitment is to be realised.

With just 86 days to the WTO meeting in Hong Kong, it is difficult to see how, in such a short time, the changes that are still required to stop forcing poor countries to liberalise can possibly be achieved.

But, given Tony Blair's statement about making a "monumental effort" on trade in the run up to Hong Kong, we hope that he has understood the message that free trade is not the same as trade justice.

The writer is head of policy at Action Aid