TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL
ON FINANCING FOR DEVELOPMENT CONFERENCE
Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General: Ladies and gentlemen, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations is here to brief you on the International Conference on Financing for Development to take place later this month at Monterrey, Mexico.
The Deputy Secretary-General: Thank you, Fred. By now I assume you have all heard about this Conference. Let me tell you, first, what this Conference is about, what is special about it, what it will accomplish, who will be there and what are the events that are going to take place there.
First, on what it is about: It is about mobilizing resources for development. But when we say “development”, remember the Millennium Declaration, which set very, very specific goals. It is about finding the necessary resources to tackle poverty and to achieve education goals and to get clean water for people. So, a theme that sounds, perhaps, a little abstract is, in fact, very connected to very, very, very real objectives. It will be looking at all types of resources: the internal resources that developing countries can generate themselves; and the resources that can come from trade, from foreign direct investment, from official development assistance (ODA), from debt relief.
But, this Conference is also about how the international system is working, how to increase coherence in the system, how to ensure that developing countries have a bigger voice at the tables of various institutions.
What is special about this Conference is that this, I believe, is the first time that there has been a conference at that level that deals exclusively with the question of financing for development. At every other United Nations conference, there is always a little section that says, “Of course, to do all these nice things we need the resources”. This is the first time that Member States have agreed to tackle head-on this question of resources.
I think it is also the first time that we see a United Nations conference that is being prepared by all institutions of the United Nations system, including the Bretton Woods institutions – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
I think it is one of those special occasions where, in fact, you will see participation by various ministries from the home countries. Very often, United Nations meetings are led and managed essentially by foreign ministries. This time around, because of the subject, we have had a lot of participation from finance ministries and trade ministries, and that makes it a special conference as well.
What will it accomplish? As you know, several weeks ago delegations here agreed on a consensus document, a document which establishes very clear agreement on a number of points. Agreement, first, on the general policy directions that countries have to follow to ensure that they create a receptive climate for growth and for attracting foreign direct investment. It is not every day that you can have that kind of consensus on a subject that is so complex.
The document is also very clear on its support for continuing the trade liberalization which we hope will be happening through the Doha process. It is clear on support for continuing debt reduction, ensuring that there are enough resources to ensure that the debt reduction for the heavily indebted countries continues to be available. There is also a new element, which is the interest expressed in the possibility of developing new mechanisms to deal with situations like the one we saw in Argentina not so long ago, where mechanisms are to be found to deal with a large number of private creditors, referred to as a “workout” kind of system. That is fairly new on the horizon.
There is agreement on the need for increased ODA. As you know, the Secretary-General has promoted the notion that you needed a doubling of the current levels of ODA. This is not in the document at the moment. We still think that that is a reasonable level to aim for. There is very strong support for the early conclusion of a convention on corruption, another fairly recent development in the United Nations system. And there is agreement on pretty robust follow-up.
But, I think Monterrey is more than just a document. I think Monterrey is about putting this whole issue of development and the need for resources higher up on the agenda, of developed countries in particular. We hope to hear at the summit and at the meeting itself individual countries coming up to the plate, so to speak, to be explicit about how, nationally, they intend to follow up on the agreement contained in this consensus. We hope very much that Monterrey will contribute to developing a momentum and to feeding a momentum of interest and commitment around the world towards the pursuit of the development goals and, therefore, towards finding the resources to accomplish them.
Who will be there? Well, this is one of those fairly large conferences where you will have, certainly, governments –- represented, most of them, at least at the ministerial level. We expect a very large number of ministers to be present, because many countries will have more than one minister, given the nature of the discussion. And as you have heard by now, there is also a summit segment that will be held towards the end of the week next week. The numbers are not final yet, but you could see up to 50 heads of State or government participating in Monterrey and participating in the retreat that President Fox is calling on the Friday of the Conference. But, you will also see important participation from business, from non-governmental organizations, from foundations and so on.
As usual at these conferences, you will have statements in plenary. I think it is important to note that this part of the Conference is being kept to a minimum length; it is not essentially about countries making speeches. There will be a series of statements, but they will be fairly short; I think they are all limited to five minutes. Most of the action will actually take place in the round tables, which will involve, this time around, a much larger number of non-State participants –- non-governmental organizations, business and foundations –- along with ministers and other government delegations.
You will have a very large number of side events sponsored by governments, by non-governmental organizations, by business –- co-sponsored by two or three of them -– covering the full gamut of issues on the agenda of the Conference. There is a non-governmental organization forum taking place this week in Monterrey; it will end, I think, this Friday. And there will also be a business forum taking place early next week. There is a press kit that I am sure you have received or can have access to, with more of the detailed information on all these events.
That is what I wanted to say by way of introduction. I will be happy to take your questions.
Question: Thank you, Madam, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, for returning to this briefing room to talk with us.
The first question is: Is there any effort to eliminate the rivalry that often exists among the agencies and elements of the United Nations itself, which have often interfered with the achievement of the goals that have been set?
The Deputy Secretary-General: The goal of making the United Nations system work effectively together as a team has been very central to the Secretary-General’s reform effort since he took office in 1997. I think we have seen very significant progress on that front, including in terms of how we work together at Headquarters level. I think of the way this Conference was prepared, literally with the active participation of all the relevant parts of the United Nations family, with many of these agencies actually putting staff on loan right here in the United Nations Secretariat and signing on to the report of the Secretary-General that was issued almost a year ago now. This is actually a report that is endorsed by all members of the United Nations family; that is quite a novelty in the system. Equally, I would say that in the field, at the delivery end, where we work with developing countries at delivering our programmes, there is much better and much closer coordination among the members of the United Nations family.
We have a very tight system that engages, that obliges in fact, the funds and programmes –- the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and so on –- to work as members of the team. But, I am pleased to say that the specialized agencies that have somewhat greater autonomy have chosen to become part of that system. And in many, many countries the World Bank representative will also be part of that system.
I would not say that we are perfect; I would not say that there is no more disagreement or rivalry. But, I think that the landscape is quite a bit different now than it was five years ago.
Question: I have two questions, one very short. I was originally under the impression that President Castro of Cuba was going to attend, but he is not on the list. Do you know if he is planning to be at Monterrey?
The Deputy Secretary-General: I do not know.
Question: The second question is: As you have just pointed out, both you and the Secretary-General have called for the doubling of ODA. But that did not make it into the Monterrey consensus. Without it in the consensus document, how do you intend to pursue it at the Conference?
The Deputy Secretary-General: Well, that number came from various studies and documents –- a World Bank study and the Zedillo Panel report also included that number. We continue to think that it is a reasonable and achievable target. As I said, we regret that it was not endorsed in the document itself, but that will not stop the Secretary-General and myself from continuing to advocate in favour of that amount as a realistic one and an achievable one. And we hope that some countries coming to Monterrey will actually commit themselves, in their individual capacity, to increasing their contribution under official development assistance.
Question: At the beginning of the planning for this Conference there was a lot of emphasis on innovation and new approaches and novel structures –- international tax bodies and whatever –- and there was the expert panel and the Secretary-General’s panel putting forward dozens of suggestions. Virtually all of them seem to have fallen by the wayside, and the biggest debate has been over a very old debate: foreign aid levels. What happened?
The Deputy Secretary-General: I think the co-facilitators, when they briefed you some weeks ago, said that this is a process; this is not the end of the story, this is not the end of the line. Many of these ideas –- you were talking about tax cooperation, for instance -– are very novel. That idea is very new. I think it probably needs a little more time to mature. It is not the case that because the consensus document does not specifically advance one or two of these new ideas, the ideas die and will no longer be discussed. I think this question of tax cooperation, for instance, has some significant interest. I would not be surprised if it resurfaced in other circumstances.
On the other hand, one issue that suddenly got a boost was this orderly “workout” idea. I guess it became more topical when Argentina experienced its most recent crisis.
A lot of these ideas take time to percolate. Some were ready for some form of endorsement; others are going to remain as part of the discourse without necessarily being part of a document officially endorsed by 189 countries. So, we have to see this as a process.
Question: You mentioned the corruption issue. Could you elaborate a little on how you see anti-corruption measures getting a boost at Monterrey?
The Deputy Secretary-General: In fact, there was an agreement some time ago to begin the negotiation of an anti-corruption convention which would deal with all aspects of the corruption issue; dealing with both the giving and the receiving ends, with how to deal with the restitution of funds, and so on. This work has started under the aegis of the United Nations crime programme in Vienna. It got its start in the context of a conference on crime. I find it quite interesting that it is now receiving endorsement, first of all, at a more political event –- because this is an event that will involve foreign ministers, that will involve finance ministers, that will involve a lot of heads of State or government.
So, I think that this is giving the convention process, which started, as I said, through a somewhat more technical route, a real political boost now.
Question: Do you have an idea of how many people are going to be in Monterrey –- delegations, business, non-governmental organizations, whatever?
The Deputy Secretary-General: Thousands, surely. Do we keep score?
Mr. Eckhard: I don’t think we have a way to keep score.
The Deputy Secretary-General: What is remarkable is the fact that in, I would say, recent weeks the number of people who have declared their intention to go to Monterrey has increased significantly. The number of leaders, for instance -– heads of State or government –- is now, we think, approaching 50, which is a very significant number for an event that did not start as a summit. And yet, we are likely to see that large a number of heads of State or government. And as I said, many delegations will have several ministers participating.
And of course, there is real interest on the part of the various civil-society actors. Look at the list of side events. I think it is an impressive list. Look at the kinds of sponsors. This is very varied. I find that encouraging, because I read it as a sign that this is an issue that is attracting more attention, that is becoming more central to the political debate after, I must say, a long period when there was not that much discussion about financing for development.
Question: There have been so many various conferences and meetings dealing with the issue of abolishing poverty. Why should we believe that it will be
different this time, and that it will not stop with just promises and commitments? Will the issue of terrorism and the desperation of the people in some parts of the world be an issue at this Conference?
The Deputy Secretary-General: I cannot make any promise on behalf of governments, but what I do know is that it is terribly important for these issues to receive attention. In all countries, first of all, there has to be a commitment on the part of governments to put poverty up on their agenda. That is why I think the Millennium Summit outcome was so important: because it set really crystal-clear goals. When it comes to financing, every country has some responsibility to find resources domestically, but there is no doubt that the developed countries have a special responsibility to be ready to contribute in terms of a readiness to increase their ODA and to tackle at last the question of trade barriers –- which can make a big difference to developing countries, if they can export their products and so on.
So, I cannot make any promise that this time will be different. But, what I do know is that these are events that are designed to raise the profile of these issues that establish policy consensus. If you look at the outcome of the conferences of the past 10 years –- and we had a large number of big, thematic conferences –- I think in retrospect –- you have to take a little distance –- one has to conclude that these conferences actually made a big difference. They made a big difference.
To take one example, because 8 March was just a few days ago, if you look at the history of United Nations conferences on women, it is not difficult to trace the impact of those conferences on domestic policies and on domestic measures to improve the fate of women. Has it made a difference absolutely everywhere? No. But it has made a significant difference. And I think that, if you take every other thematic conference of the 1990s, you have to recognize that the establishment of a strong policy, a common vision, a common understanding of a problem and a common agreement around certain policies has made an impact. Therefore, I am very hopeful that Monterrey will make a difference.
Question: How does this Conference address the problem of foreign direct investment and the disparity in flows between regions, especially areas that have been avoided in the pattern of investment? How do you tackle these problems at the Conference?
The Deputy Secretary-General: I think the consensus document recognizes that foreign direct investment is a very important source of resources for development. For foreign direct investment to become a significant element in funding for development, there have to be certain basic conditions. I think the discussion around foreign direct investment has been around what are the conditions that will make foreign direct investment go to certain countries. I think, in that context, that the agreement to tackle the problem of corruption is very relevant -– absolutely relevant -– to creating a receptive climate for an increase in foreign direct investment.
On all these subjects, there are some technical answers, some technical solutions, and then there are other aspects of these issues that require the creation of a positive environment. I think that, when it comes to foreign direct investment, what overwhelmingly makes the difference is whether there is some domestic policy; whether there is reasonable treatment of investors and facilities for investors.
Mr. Eckhard: There are no further questions. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
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