x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

UN summit fizzles

As expected, most nations failed to send heads of government to the UN headquarters.

NEW YORK // Featuring television link-ups to the UN General Assembly chamber and capable of seating hundreds of journalists, the hopefully named media overflow room remained empty during last week's global economic crisis summit. Lacklustre media interest in the flagship event of the assembly's leftist president, the Nicaraguan priest Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, was matched by the absence of world leaders from what had been billed as a top-level summit. As expected, most nations failed to send heads of government to the UN headquarters, but the real surprise came when Mr D'Escoto's fellow Latin American leaders from the left, such as the presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia, Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales, failed to show. After three days of debate, a consensus on an outcome statement that had been heavily diluted after weeks of negotiations left many delegates wondering what had been achieved. Many recommendations advanced by developing countries, such as the call for international co-ordination of the global economy and a new reserve currency to replace the US dollar, were watered down in talks before the event began last Wednesday. The non-binding 15-page document calls for a solution to the economic crisis that includes the views of all 192 UN members, rather than the Group of 20 leading and emerging economies and the EU, which control 85 per cent of the world economy. The compromise statement presents few specifics that members can be tied to, but calls for new approaches to structuring debt, a study on reforming the global reserve system, and highlights the need to increase market regulation. But the document bore little resemblance to the original draft, which contained Mr D'Escoto's firebrand language damning the "anti-values of greed, individualism and exclusion" and the "mindless accumulation of wealth". Yu Yongding, the director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics and a member of the conference's advisory commission, said the summit had put key issues on the table, but added that "this kind of reform is a process, is a thing you can't accomplish overnight". Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the World Bank managing director, revealed forecasts of developing country growth of only 1.2 per cent this year, compared with 7.7 per cent in 2007. Current projections indicate that 84 of 109 developing countries would face financing gaps that in most cases could not be covered by tapping reserves, Ms Okonjo-Iweala said. Delegates painted a depressing picture of millions of people losing jobs, savings and their homes; more than 50 million more people driven into extreme poverty; and the prospect of more than one billion hungry and undernourished people, a historic high. A succession of leaders from developing nations took the podium and complained about an economic crisis that was not of their making and a lack of resources to assist them through a damaging slump. Rafael Correa, the Ecuadorian president, spoke of the "blackmail to which we have been subjected by rich countries" and called for an overhaul of the IMF and the World Bank that would allow developing nations to "become the owners of our own destinies". The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, also called for more financial support to developing countries and chided the world's wealthy nations for reneging on pledges to boost aid to Africa. "Surely if the world can mobilise more than US$18 trillion (Dh66.06tn) to keep the financial sector afloat, it can find more than US$18 billion to keep commitments to Africa," the UN chief told delegates at the start of a three-day debate. The UAE Minister of State for Financial Affairs, Obaid Humaid al Tayer, urged rich nations to live up to their obligations and provide 0.7 per cent of their GDP to protect the "millions in poor countries from poverty and hunger". Wrapping up his conference, Mr D'Escoto hailed the agreed blueprint as "a great achievement" that had placed power in the hands of the UN and helped put the "world on a new path toward's solidarity, stability and sustainability". But John Sammis, a diplomat from the US mission, said Washington did not view the document as endorsing a UN role in decisions affecting the architecture and institutions of global finance. Diplomats from the Group of 77 bloc of developing nations and anti-poverty campaigners complained that while the outcome document touched on key areas, it was unlikely to have a great impact on global economic policy making. Gemma Adaba, of the International Trade Union Confederation, described the declaration as "unclear on decisive actions" because it lacked mechanisms to ensure poor countries got a fair deal on aid, and reforming the IMF and World Bank. Diplomats said the low turnout of world leaders at the UN conference reflected widespread dissatisfaction with the way Mr D'Escoto, a radical former foreign minister of Nicaragua, organised it. The lead-up to the conference highlighted sharp differences between leftists, who want to give the 192-nation General Assembly much more say in tackling the financial crisis, and major powers intent on keeping control in their own hands. * with Reuters