PRESS CONFERENCE BY UNITED KINGDOM CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER

10 May 2002

PRESS CONFERENCE BY UNITED KINGDOM CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER

10/05/2002
Press Briefing

PRESS CONFERENCE BY United Kingdom Chancellor of the Exchequer

Given the commitments already made this year, the international community had an unprecedented opportunity to make the year 2002 a historic year for moving towards implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, Gordon Brown, United Kingdom Chancellor of the Exchequer, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this morning.

Briefing the press on the means to ensure financing for a world fit for children, Mr. Brown, who was introduced by the Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy, said that now that the Goals – a set of pledges made at the United Nations Millenium Summit to address, among others, poverty, social injustice and environmental pollution -- had been set, an extra $50 billion would be required each year until 2015 to reach them. 

He said the question was:  could the international community get the resources to back those targets.  For that reason, he was putting forward several proposals, which should help the international community ensure that all children in the world had a chance to fully develop their potential.  That meant action on education, health, hunger, debt relief, sustainable development and poverty eradication.

He went on to say that together, pledges from the United States and the European Union, made at the Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey, Mexico, would, from 2006, raise $12 billion a year more for education, health and anti-poverty programmes.  Europe and America should maximize their development spending by examining as a matter of urgency the means by which that boost to international development aid could be maximized. 

Countries should look for both public and private sources of financing, he said.  He hoped significant progress could be achieved over the course of this year -- from New York to the G-8 meeting in Canada and then to the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in September, and World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) meetings in October.

The theme of the special session -- a world fit for children -- was exactly in line with the policy of his Government and the policy of all decent-minded people around the world, he said, stressing the importance of world leaders committing themselves to higher amounts of development aid for the long-term future.  It was necessary to tackle the problem of hunger, recognizing that the problems were getting worse in some countries of Africa and that it was important to look not only for short-term solutions, but also for long-term food security.  That required the international community to move ahead further and faster on trade and opening up agriculture to fair competition.

In the area of education, he urged the richest countries to support the World Bank initiative to fast-track their commitment to meeting the Millennium Development Goal of primary education for all by 2015.  It was estimated that the process would cost $2.5 billion, and he hoped that individual countries would make commitments in that regard as they moved forward to the G-8 summit in Canada later this year. 

On health, he stressed the need to build on the Global Health Fund, which was providing drugs and treatments at affordable prices to the poorest countries in their fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.  It was also important to fast-track investments in health for developing countries that had plans to build and improve their health systems.

In his statement to the Assembly, he had also addressed the issue of debt relief, he continued, because his Government worried that insufficient resources were now available in that respect.  It was necessary to provide a sustainable exit from debt to the poorest countries.  Twenty-six countries were now part of the debt-relief process, and $60 billion in debt had been relieved.  Greater flexibility was needed to allow the countries get the full benefit of what was intended, and according to estimates, an additional $1 billion contribution from richer countries would be needed. 

“We know what we have to do and why we have to do it”, Ms. Bellamy said as she introduced Mr. Brown at the outset of the press conference.  Now it was time to do it.  No real progress could be made towards poverty reduction, peace and stability without first investing in children.  World leaders had embraced that principle when they adopted the Millennium Development Goals two years ago.  Although postponed, the special session on children, quite appropriately fell between two anchors - the Financing for Development and Sustainable Development conferences, bringing those conceptual issues together in real action around children.

To a question about health care, Mr. Brown replied that the Global Health Fund had been established to provide drugs and treatments at reasonable prices.  Therefore, the $1.9 billion that had been pledged was used to get drugs to the poorest countries.  Decisions were being made now about the allocation of resources.  The proposals about fast-tracking health care systems in developing countries had been made to ensure quick progress there.  It was insufficient to only provide treatments or doctors on a short-term basis -- it was necessary to build up national capacity in that respect.  Much also depended on the training of doctors, delivery systems, long-term financing of free medical care.  That was why his Government was proposing that the World Bank should do for health what it was already doing for education -- in other words, back the health care systems by investing in them.

How could long-term development targets be met with the world situation constantly shifting and governments changing? a correspondent asked.  Mr. Brown replied that all the international organizations had now subscribed to the Millennium Development targets.  Every Government that was part of the IMF and the World Bank had now said that they, too, were part of the commitment to meet those targets.  The scale of support for them was such that most countries, irrespective of changes in government, would want to “stick with them”.  It was also important that young people were showing support for those targets.  It was difficult to imagine a situation where countries would just walk away from the development goals. 

Ms. Bellamy added that the outcome document to be adopted by the special session was expected to insist on implementing the Millennium Development Goals, ensuring consistency of international policies.

Asked what he thought of proposals that developing countries should receive not loans, but grants, Mr. Brown said that they were part of a continuing debate about the future of development assistance.  There was an argument that to impose

loans on the poorest countries rather than grants, in the next few years, was not a means to keep them free of debt.  In the end, there would always be a balance between grants and loans, because some countries could repay loans and other could not.  The issue was what the correct balance was, and he thought it would be resolved very soon.

As the Millennium Goals were not specific for children, should special children’s funds be created? a correspondent asked.  Ms. Bellamy said that investment should begin by investing in children’s basic health and education.  Those funds should come, first and foremost, from each individual country.  Richer countries had a responsibility to respond, but all countries had to start by making their own investments.  Apart from the Millennium Goals, it was impossible to have a healthy economy without investing in people.  Such goals as reducing child mortality, however, should be key objectives for every country in the world.

Mr. Brown added that the biggest beneficiaries of the Millennium Development Goals would be the children of the world, because the goals aimed to ensure that every child had schooling and that their families were free of poverty.  The millennium health goals were about reducing infant and maternal mortality.  With proper investment, those goals could be quickly achieved.

In that connection, Ms. Bellamy reminded correspondents that the message sent by the Children’s Forum to the special session was that the children were not an expenditure, but an investment.

To a question regarding efforts to monitor spending, Mr. Brown said that today he had proposed that in return for developing countries pursuing corruption-free, stability-based policies in trade and investment, the developed countries would be prepared to put in additional sums of money.  That deal involved rights and responsibilities, as well as a degree of conditionality for developing countries.  It would ensure, however, that no country genuinely committed to corruption-free economic development should be prevented from meeting the Millennium Development Goals through lack of resources. 

The poverty-reduction strategy process adopted by the international financial institutions was a means by which plans were drawn up by countries themselves, in consultation with civil society, so that peoples of those countries knew exactly what was being promised.  Requiring greater transparency, that process would also ensure proper monitoring of the investment. 

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For information media. Not an official record.