Thursday, September 15, 2005

[Global Poverty] Poor nations call for aid at U.N.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Leaders of developing nations called Wednesday for more foreign aid and freer trade to help poor countries develop, warning at a U.N. summit that chronic poverty could fuel regional conflict.

They complained that richer countries have failed to meet commitments to forgive the debts of poor nations and to lower trade barriers to their goods. "The survival of small islands of prosperity surrounded by seas of destitution is not viable," Mexican President Vicente Fox said in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly. He said poverty "provokes conflicts which respect no borders, and it threatens peace and security at a regional and global level."

Fox and leaders from Jamaica, Nigeria and other countries said rich nations must make faster progress toward carrying out the Millennium Declaration in 2000, which committed them to spend more on foreign aid and help to improve living standards for the poor. They were speaking at a meeting on financing development held immediately after the opening of a summit marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.

Jamaica's prime minister, Percival James Patterson, speaking for the Group of 77, which represents 132 mainly developing nations, complained that richer nations have failed to keep promises to stop the outflow of money from poor countries for debt payments and other transfers. Patterson said poor countries are paying some US$230 billion (euro185 billion) a year to developed nations. He said there has been "no real initiative" to ease the debt burden of low- and middle-income countries. "This burden is far too heavy for many of these countries," he said.

The event comes amid work on a plan to forgive US$40 billion (euro32 billion) in debts owed by 18 poor countries, mostly in Africa, to the World Bank and other international lenders. Some anti-poverty and other groups want the debt relief expanded to cover more than 60 poor countries. Patterson also complained of a lack of progress on Millennium Declaration promises to eliminate tariffs on exports by the world's poorest economies and to ease trade in goods from others. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz echoed the appeal for freer trade, saying that fighting poverty "calls for dismantling trade barriers and ending agriculture subsidies that hurt small farmers and the private sector."

U.N. goals set in response to the Millennium Declaration called on governments to cut extreme poverty by half, stop the spread of AIDS, ensure universal primary education, and expand access for the poor to clean water, all by 2015. But only a handful have met a U.N. target set 35 years ago to raise annual foreign aid spending to 0.7 percent of their economic output. "There remains an enormous backlog of deprivation," said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Chinese President Hu Jintao used the event to unveil initiatives including a promise of US$10 billion (euro8 billion) in low-interest loans for poor countries, as well as duty-free import status for 39 of the poorest of them. Hu said Beijing would give to anti-malaria efforts in Africa and train 30,000 workers in a range of jobs. "China is ready to work with all other countries to make the 21st century truly a century of development for all," Hu said.

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf pointed to his own country as an example of what he called the success of a mix of aid, foreign investment and economic reform. Musharraf said Pakistan achieved 8.4 percent economic growth this year after freezing military spending, paying down government debt and giving land titles to the poor. "Good policies can turn around the worst-performing economies," Musharraf said. However, he said, "rapid development cannot be achieved by domestic financing alone" and still requires foreign aid and investment.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.