Doha conference fails to make economic changes

by
03 December 2008

by Bill Bowder

THE WORLD COUNCIL of Churches, Christian aid agencies, and other campaigners who had called for a radical reform of the global economic system at a United Nations meeting in Doha, Qatar, on financing development faced disappointment this week, after the conference ended with delegates expecting a statement that there would be no structural change (Comment, 28 November).

Campaigners had argued that debt repayment and illicit cash-flows drained more out of developing economies than they received in aid. The current financial system was based on injustice, the WCC said in a statement to the four-day International Conference on Financing for Development.

“The meeting in Doha provides an historic opportunity for world leaders to take responsibility and enact transformations towards building an equitable and sustainable global economic system that meets the economic, social, and cultural rights of all,” the WCC said.

Mary Robinson, the President of the Ethical Globalization Initiative and a former President of Ireland, said during the meeting that poor countries should not bear the consequences of “a First-World debt crisis caused by irresponsible behaviour and a phoney market in toxic assets”. Rich coun­tries, the World Bank, the IMF, and even consumers should not escape responsibility.

The Jubilee Debt Campaign commented that the UK’s determination to block reforms on financial structures at the conference had undermined the country’s commitment to tackling the causes of poverty.

“Gordon Brown . . . appears to have in­structed his officials to block some of the most important proposals on the table,” said Nick Dearden, the director of Jubilee Debt Cam­paign.

In a joint statement, Christian Aid and Action Aid said that the conference had failed to create the necessary UN body that would allow countries to co-ordinate their tax strategies. “Such a move would have helped undermine the secrecy offered by tax havens,” they said. Christian Aid said tax evasion in developing countries equalled $160 billion a year. “Doha was a chance for rich countries to demonstrate their commitment to helping poorer countries during the present financial crisis. It was a lost opportunity,” it com­mented.

Norway, France, Germany, and South Africa had all pushed for a strong resolution on tax, but opposition to the move was led

by the United States. A UN meeting “at the highest level” is to be held next year to discuss the causes and impact of the economic and financial crisis on developing countries.

The Doha conference was called to assess the progress made towards realising the 2002 Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development, which signposted how funds could be used to help poor countries.

The UN secretary in charge of the conference, Oscar de Rojas, said in a press conference on Tuesday that the final conference text would not include any new commitments. Instead, it would call for existing commitments to be met. There was disappointment over the failure to agree over tax, he said, but there was agreement that “something needed to be done”.

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