His Excellency Mr. Guy Verhofstadt 
Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Belgium

at the 
International Conference on Financing for Development

Monterrey, Mexico 
21st March 2002

I wish to express our full gratitude and admiration to you, Mr. President, and through you to all the Mexican people.

I must admit that the retreat that you have planned for the Heads of State or Government, to be held tomorrow at lunchtime, has rekindled my hope. I see a new, if not a final, opportunity to give the subject that we are addressing today a more ambitious dimension then.

Poverty in the world is indeed an existential issue of current times. Poverty is the despair of hundreds of millions of people, who are alone, dispossessed, powerless and shadowed by the fate of unsustainable inequality. This injustice makes us recall the collective selfishness of the rich world, a world whose only response is all too often as ritualistic as it is cynical.

Of course, we must pay tribute to the diplomats who prepared the final text of this Conference. We all know that the task of these diplomats is thankless and difficult. Very often we ask them in our stead to find painless and placebo solutions to the conflicting issues that divide us. However, in this case I can hardly accept that we, bearing the ultimate political responsibility, should not negotiate the broadest possible common denominator of a common position. The Monterrey Conference cannot lead to a banal declaration that would deprive this meeting of all significance, a meeting being held at the highest level. I thank the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, for his renewed appeal for us to move away from lingering reluctance.

We are not here to side-step the subject. We are not here to speculate, each in our own corner, on the best way to escape what we owe mankind. We are here because we want to be here. At the Millennium Summit we agreed on a concrete and viable goal and we also decided to reduce poverty in the world by half. We know that this dream is accessible if we truly want it.

This promise in and of itself should sweep away our doubts, hesitation and reservations. Once again, I should like to appeal to you, Mr. President, with the full force of my deep conviction that we not leave this summit with an ambiguous commitment, because the only result would be sending the poorest sector of mankind into scepticism and despair. At the same time, that will feed into the disillusioned contempt of all youth, who, in our countries, generously bear the promise for a better world.

It has been agreed that none of the conclusions will be changed. However, the nature of what is probably the most fundamental political issue of the century deserves a real debate, a real exchange of views and requires boldness and decisiveness. Naturally, we will hold other meetings elsewhere, fortunately – in Rome in June and in Johannesburg in September.

Please do not consider the vehemence of my statement as impertinence. Just see it as my resolve to lay here in Monterrey the groundwork for new impetus that must be crystallized this year. In the future, we must truly shed the ritual, agreed texts and sweetened declarations that will no longer suffice in the future.

The events of 11 September have founded a legitimate and healthy coalition against terrorism. The free world cannot permit such a grave and barbaric attack on our democratic and humanistic values. The front against this crime must remain welded, unalterable. The coalition that has been built with our American partners must be flawless.

At the same time, we are not entitled to believe that eradicating this abject phenomenon will be sufficient. Poverty, daily humiliating inequality and the absence of the smallest glimmer of hope for hundreds of millions of people feed the fertile soil of this abomination. When one no longer believes, anything will do. Fanaticism cannot become the new opium of the marginalized. I am convinced that to respond to the world’s inequality would be to truly respond to this permanent danger that I have just mentioned.

That is why I wish to conclude my statement by addressing three specific tracks that we can implement, if we so wish. They are, first, to set a precise term to a promise so often renewed and to allocate 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product to development aid. My country has not always been in the best place to give lessons in this regard. But it is the fourth consecutive year that we have substantially increased our development aid budget with the certainty this year of reaching the declared percentage in 2010. We must admit that the conclusion today on the subject is disappointing. It risks being considered a confession of failure foretold.

My second idea refers to another idea that is often debated but has never really been settled. That is debt relief for the poorest countries. Steps have already been taken. But we can, and must, work faster. My country has designed a specific proposal entitled “Prospective Aid and Indebtedness Relief”, PAIR for short. What is this about? It is a matter of setting up a fund financed by the 23 richest countries. These each would allocate, over the next 15 years, 0.1 per cent of their gross domestic product. 

That mechanism would enable us to expeditiously reduce the debt of the 49 poorest countries and to finance new human development programmes. In other words, 850 million inhabitants living in the 23 richest countries would finally extend their hand to the 850 million inhabitants of the 49 poorest countries. I intend to make this proposal into a personal priority. I will also submit it to the ministerial meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which I will have the honour of chairing in May in Paris. I wish to ask the Secretary-General to put this proposal before the United Nations.

Finally, my third consideration comes within the context of negotiations within the World Trade Organization. We have heard Mr. Moore. These negotiations have just begun. I think, more than ever, we must place emphasis on developing countries. This means devoting ourselves to everything but arms and removing export subsidies for products coming from our countries.

The small local farmer has had a hard time believing that world trade is a source of freedom and social justice when we prevent him from placing his milk, butter or cheese on markets, sometimes kilometres away from his village. He is then a powerless witness to the fact that our export subsidies evict him from his own market. Thus we sap his faith in freedom and leave democratic soil to illusion, which in the past has been ineffective, when it has not sown hatred and violence.

The stakes of our meeting are here. The stakes are indivisible freedom - the eternal seed of the greatest civilizations; that freedom which is never content and which lives in the hearts, the minds and the spirits of men; freedom that no planning, frontier, or obstacle has ever been able to kill and which, when it wakes up, moves individuals to scale summits and humanity towards justice.

* The text of this statement has been transcribed from audio recordings as the original was not submitted to the Secretariat.

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