International Conference on Financing for Development

Department of Public Information - News and Media Services Division - New York
Monterrey, NL, Mexico
18-22 March 2002

19 March 2002




"I wished I had known then what I know now about the third world", former United States President Jimmy Carter said today at a press conference in Monterrey, referring to how little Americans understood about how little they gave and how desperately aid was needed.

The Monterrey Conference could serve to educate the American people, he said. Also, the Conference might well stimulate the rich countries to be more generous and encourage the developing world to vastly decrease the corruption and waste in their countries. At the same time, waste and corruption decreased on their own when aid touched people on a personal level.

He said the greatest challenge was bridging the divide between those nations that had everything and those whose citizens were living in abject poverty. During a recent trip to Africa, where he had visited some 10 nations with Bill Gates, Sr., he had seen first-hand the lack of investment in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, for example. That had been "a real eye opener in the field of health".

The United States gave one-thousandth of its gross national product (GNP) to overseas development, while Europe and Japan gave approximately three times that much, he continued. "We were all shocked obviously by the tragedy that occurred in New York on September 11th in that savage terrorist attack", but in Africa alone, that many people died every 12 hours of AIDS. And, much of that could be prevented. Development assistance was critically important if it was spent wisely and effectively.

Allocating funds for health for a particular disease, whether malaria, river blindness or AIDS, however, was a different story, he said. If a top official began to steal that money, he or she was more likely to get caught because people would rise up and demand that that waste be stopped. Improving the quality of someone´s life meant development assistance was less likely to be wasted or subjected to corruption.

Asked about United States President George Bush´s proposal for increased aid to developing countries, he said he was pleased at his statement and commitment. That had been a long-awaited and dramatic statement, but it should be put in perspective. However, the effective date would be in fiscal year 2004, while the needs were urgent now. Also, part of President Bush's statement concerned the need to meet certain criteria before that aid became available to a particular country. It was important to be "generous and not just demanding", he added.

Just 10 days ago, he said, he had visited the only clinic in the Central African Republic, where 267 people were suffering from advanced AIDS, most of them women with small children. There was "zero medicine, zero treatment, zero programmes" for AIDS prevention. The women had just come for a morsel of food to tide them and their babies over for the next day.

He said that 90 per cent of the beds in the local hospital in the capital city of the Central African Republic were filled with AIDS victims. Now, if that country could not receive aid until it proved it was efficient, it would never get the help it needed. "We can´t expect a country to fulfil criteria in advance that might be beyond its reach", Mr. Carter said.

A correspondent said that, notwithstanding President Bush's promise of $5 billion, it seemed that the dominant United States position was that trade was better than aid, and an unseen, but all-seeing, hand of the market would cure all ills. What did he think about that?

Mr. Carter replied that the developed rich nations had imposed trade restrictions on the poorest nations that far exceeded any total aid that they gave. For instance, in agricultural protection alone, "we cost the developing world three times as much as all the overseas development assistance that they received from all sources".

He added that when anyone talked about increased trade as a substitute for supplementing aid, they should look at how those countries were prevented from trading. So, in addition to giving foreign aid, the trade barriers that prevented countries from marketing their only attractive natural resources or produced goods should be reduced.

Replying to a question about whether the United States should pledge to give 0.7 per cent of its GNP to official development assistance (ODA), he said, yes, but that was an unlikely prospect now. Yet, the Europeans had pledged 0.39 per cent of their GNP compared to the United States' one tenth of 1 per cent.

Asked whether Mexico's President Vicente Fox was a model leader for the developing world, Mr. Carter said that President Fox had done a good job, and his positive relationship with President Bush would be helpful to his country.

He added that Mexicans and others should be given amnesty or an opportunity to remain in the United States legally and continue to do their vital work.

Responding to a question about farm subsidies, he said that agricultural barriers had been reduced or eliminated with Canada and Mexico and that had not hurt the American farmers. The next step was to turn the hemisphere into a free- trade zone. Compensatory efforts should be made when the export potential of the truly poor nations was hurt.

When he was President, he replied to another question, foreign aid had been between two- and three-tenths of 1 per cent. As President, he had had a constant annual battle with the Congress to increase that aid, pointing out that each dollar invested by the United States benefited it to the tune of about $6. During the cold war, he added, one purpose of giving assistance to an African nation, for example, was to keep the Soviet Union from coming in and buying their friendship with a higher level of assistance. At that time, Congress was more receptive to foreign aid programmes. In terms of agricultural subsidies during his Administration, those were probably about the same as now.

Responding to a question about the recent United States' decision to stop contributing to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA), he said he was not familiar with that decision, but one factor in the White House and Congress that seriously damaged health programmes around the world was the preoccupation with the abortion issue.

Under Presidents Clinton, and George Bush, Sr. and Jr., there had been a very tight restraint on allocation by Congress of funding for any programme involving family planning, if that could possibly encompass abortion. Now, as a leader of a non-governmental organization that invested half its efforts in the health field, he saw the adverse effect of those restraints on public health. That debate was still in its formative stage and had not yet been resolved.

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