Amid rising concerns that many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) remain out of reach for too many countries, high-level representatives of the IMF, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the UN Conference on Trade and Development met on April 18 in New York for the first in a series of events that will set the stage for a world summit on the MDGs. The September 14–17 gathering of world leaders will take stock of progress and seek to reinvigo-rate global commitment to meeting the ambitious goals of halving poverty and substantially improving the quality of life in the world’s poorest countries that were spelled out in the September 2000 Millennium Declaration.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan addressed the New York session, held under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and told participants that the coming months offer a unique opportunity to make real changes in the international system to help promote freedom, equality, and security for all. The most pressing needs, he said, are a successful completion of the Doha Round leading to improved market access for developing country exports, and more specific commitments to addressing the special needs of sub-Saharan Africa. At the five-year mark in the MDG countdown to 2015 and with commitments not yet fully met, Annan challenged country officials, “If not now, when?”
IMF Deputy Managing Director Agustín Carstens stressed that poverty reduction must remain atop the international agenda. The key challenge, he said, remains to strengthen the investment environment and foster private sector—led growth. The global community must also increase and better coordinate its financial and technical assistance, provide further debt relief, and open its markets to developing country products.
What it will take
Although the meeting was meant to be a dialogue and there were no negotiated outcomes, participants did highlight the following:
Policies and strategies. Countries must develop their own long-term country-specific strategies for achieving the MDGs. Poverty reduction efforts must lead to the creation of more jobs, and more domestic resources must be mobilized. Greater investment in capacity-building will also be needed to support institutional development and increase absorptive capacity.
Aid, innovative financing, and debt relief. Donors should commit to timetables to reach 0.7 percent of gross national income—the longstanding target for official development assistance. The least developed countries and most fragile states will require the most attention. The ongoing search for innovative financing, including creating an international financing facility and a globally coordinated tax on airline tickets, was also discussed. While there were calls for additional debt relief, most participants emphasized the importance of adopting policies that ensure long-term debt sustainability.
Trade, investment, and private flows. Political will must translate into concrete actions in the lead up to the WTO meeting in Hong Kong in December. Expanded markets and reduced agricultural subsidies in industrial countries can play essential roles in boosting and sustaining growth. Also, with remittance flows becoming increasingly important as a source of capital, transaction costs need to be reduced.
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