15 Nov

G20 Seoul Summit: easy wins missed

From Caritas England and Wales (CAFOD).

The Korean government put development on the agenda at this week’s G20 summit in Seoul. But as rich countries let their own trade interests dominate the debate, poorer countries risk being squeezed out of the picture.

At the G20 summit, the Korean government worked hard to put a new language of development on the table. But while the dialogue has moved away from old economic policy blueprints and towards partnership-based approaches and multiple paths to development, the delegates let their own trade interests dominate, leading to gaps and setbacks in what the G20 can deliver.

“Every country here in Seoul is obsessing over trading their way out of recession,” said CAFOD’s economics analyst Christina Weller. “It’s weakening the reputation of the G20. This group of leaders has the responsibility to work together to increase global prosperity and steer the recovery. Instead they’re increasingly looking as though they aren’t up to snuff.”

Right now, we’re seeing aggressive language on trade outside the G20, and the self-interest of rich countries is stalling G20 agreement on bread-and-butter issues. It’s a bitter disappointment for development organisations and campaigners, to see vital core issues once more postponed, sidelined, and overlooked.

Speaking at the beginning of the summit, CAFOD director Chris Bain said, “The economic crisis is affecting everyone across the world, but it is affecting the poorest the worst. Even in the most prosperous times, there are millions who live on the margins of existence. These men, women and children are being pushed deeper into extreme poverty by the recession, which ripples out even into the most isolated communities.

“The G20 must support those least resilient to market fluctuations to achieve global sustainable growth. By thinking big but acting to support small farmers and businesses in the poorest countries the G20 leaders will put in place solid foundations for a stronger global economy with poverty reduction at its core.”
Getting down to business

The Korean government has been successful at putting development squarely on the G20 agenda. The “Seoul Development Consensus for Shared Growth” includes some encouraging language around partnership and country ownership. However, despite this fresh approach, the old policies of the Washington Consensus haven’t been entirely left behind. The consensus still falls back on the same response of opening markets while failing to really focus in on the needs of poor countries and the flexible strategies they may need.

What the G20 said…

On infrastructure: no reassessment of poor performance of private sector involvement in energy, transport and communication infrastructure investment.

On trade: stuck to old models of opening markets, which don’t enable poor countries to adopt trade strategies that support development.

On market access: failed to deliver on World Trade Organisation pledges for duty-free, quota-free access to G20 markets for least developed countries; instead made vague promises to “explore” improving and implementing these pledges.

On Aid for trade: no recognition of the need to redirect spending. Current frameworks virtually exclude help to small-scale parts of the economy that provide jobs for the majority of poor men and women.

On growth: recognised the role of private investment, and the need to make it work more effectively for development. However, measures to maximize value-added and responsible investment remain voluntary. Agricultural and informal sectors are not recognised as key to growth in poor countries.

In a new report Thinking Big, Acting Small , CAFOD calls on the G20 in Seoul to Focus on small and micro-businesses owned by poor men and women when deciding which policies to adopt and where to spend their money.

12 Nov

Seoul G20 Summit: Why the currency question means as much to poor countries as the development agenda

By CAFOD’s economics analyst Christina Weller

G20 negotiators are set for another late night. Yesterday they failed to reach agreement during a red-eye session on the big agenda item: coordinated macroeconomic policies to support a sustainable, balanced and resilient recovery – the so-called “framework agenda”. And today the arrival of the G20 leaders made discussions more “political”, leading to the loss rather than gain of shared ground. Underlying tensions over currency valuation, which affects export competitiveness, have become hugely sensitive as all G20 countries seek to trade their way out of recession simultaneously.

The currency debate has been dominated by national self-interest of individual G20 countries. The world – and particularly the most vulnerable countries within it – need an international mechanism to coordinate monetary policy. The current institutions and mechanisms (or rather lack of them) have proven incapable of managing currency volatility or aggressive use of monetary policy to boost exports.  Low-income countries suffer most under such conditions. An effective international monetary system could provide stability and support trade. If implemented in the right way it could also generate extra finance for development and action on climate change.  But these ideas are not yet up for serious discussion at the G20.

On the other hand, the second news item of the day is the leaked text of the development section of the communiqué, which by contrast is reported to have few square brackets. (Bracketed text in these agreements indicates where countries have not yet reached consensus and are still negotiating terms and language.) This agenda is South Korea’s initiative and, they hope, a legacy of the first G20 summit to be held in a developing country.

The development agenda puts the focus on economic aspects of development and growth as a pre-requisite for progress. And this emphasis is certainly welcome – with gaping holes in infrastructure, industries struggling to be competitive, a lack of skilled and healthy workers, and regulation that is either poor or poorly implemented, developing nation economic robustness has been ignored for too long.

However, we need to be confident that the G20 has learned the over-arching lesson of the financial crisis: growth is a very poor proxy for progress or for real improvements to people’s lives. How countries grow matters – whether it is driven by asset bubbles and financial activity or by changes in the real economy, whether it includes and benefits the majority of economic actors in low-income countries.

The headline items of the development agenda are not in themselves controversial. Trade, infrastructure, financial inclusion, human resource development and others are all essential for economic development. But only if they are done in the right way – building rural roads so people can take their goods to market must feature alongside expressways to ports and the development of export infrastructure. This is sustainable growth that reduces poverty.

The Washington Consensus that promoted free market fundamentalism is soon to be replaced by a Seoul Consensus that embraces more diverse approaches to economic development. The need to invest directly in small-scale agriculture and small businesses in developing countries, leaving the discredited trickle-down effect behind, must be part of this shift.

CAFOD research has found that these small-scale parts of the economy have provided important safety nets during the global downturn, often absorbing laid-off workers and even providing a source of growth and demand during tough times. Their contribution to their economies is often underestimated: they employ a majority of workers in many countries most of whom are poor men and women, they are a source of innovation, and can be part of a strategy to diversify vulnerable developing nation economies. Small and micro businesses and small farmers can be part of a strategy to boost demand in local markets – helping to harness the unrealised economic potential of millions. This in turn can provide a vital link to ensure the presence of foreign investors or large exporting firms are felt in the broader economy by acting as suppliers to these firms or by learning from them.

The G20 may well work for small businesses and farmers in poor countries, but it needs to be specifically designed to do so, not rely on a vague hope that they must inevitably benefit from growth.

A development agenda, whilst welcome, will not by itself give developing countries what they need post-crisis. As the currency conflict illustrates, all the framework issues have serious implications for developing country producers and traders who hope to succeed in globalised markets. From how countries manage their deficits (will they cut spending in ways that affect poor country exports?) to financial regulation (will they regulate speculation in commodity prices that have real impacts on agricultural exporting and food-importing developing countries) – all the G20 issues matter for development.

11 Nov

The G20 could make a difference to the loves of poor

By Pascale Palmer, CAFOD policy media officer

The G20 nations are flying in to Seoul in South Korea today for the start of the two-day summit which will see a new “development agenda” discussed. Tonight heads of state will gather for a working dinner before meeting tomorrow around the negotiating table proper. But for many of them it will only have been days since they saw each other last – with the US courting India and Cameron skirting the human rights elephant in the room during trade tête-à-têtes with the Chinese supremo.  It’s a wonder these heads of state didn’t consult their diaries and realise they were going to be hanging out at the G20 together and save themselves all some fuel.

Of course one could argue that Obama and Cameron were in the area – India and China are kind of on the way to Seoul, and perhaps it would have been rude not to drop in. But this all looks alarmingly as though the nascent glimmer of global market recovery is leading the big hitters to cast off the solidarity of the Group of 20 as each country seeks to trade its way out of recession. It seems a far cry from the “we’re all in this together” sentiment of the London Summit last year when the economic crisis took the stakes way above national interest.

And so we’re back to the old, and some new, leading nation frictions in the form of criticism over the manipulation of the value of currencies, over the balance between trade surplus economies and those in deficit, the need for binding agreements at G20 level and the ever-present debate of who isn’t represented within this “global steering group”.

This final issue is a whopper. The gap between those invited to the G20 table and the more-than-150 nations that get to stay at home, with only the UN, the World Bank and a few selected invited countries (not given full status) to count on as the conduit for all their voices, shows the reality that money talks in its starkest form. Money gets to set the global agenda, and in most cases, with this kind of power, money will inevitably beget money, leaving the poorest in its wake.

And yet with great noblesse oblige the G20 are going to launch their development agenda here in Seoul. The biggest world economies, without those facing the worst of the financial crisis – which is pushing millions of their citizens further into extreme poverty – being present, will lay out the beginnings of plans to improve development prospects for the poorest.

But let’s get over the exclusion issue for now because the G20 exists, it’s what we have and it does offer the opportunity for great change. What the G20 has to do, at a time when it’s stalled by a focus on national interests, is look again at the bigger economic picture. Its drive must not be to view the presence of trans-national corporations (TNCs) as the sole driver towards development in poor countries; it needs to shore up the sub-strata of small farmers, small and micro businesses in these countries so that economies are more resilient to global market fluctuations while at the same time reducing poverty.

CAFOD research shows that some countries where we work have maintained greater economic and employment stability over the past two years because their small and micro enterprises are strong. These layers of national economies can sway and bend rather than collapse when the TNCs slash spending or pull out altogether in times of global economic downturn. And what the G20 needs to also acknowledge is that nations that have economic structures at the micro and small business levels offer firmer foundations for successful foreign investment and support for TNCs.

And that’s what we’re calling for at this G20 – some big thinking and some small business action. The first draft of the development agenda, leaked to the Financial Times, looks like they might be moving in a positive direction, but the devil will be in the detail, and we won’t know that until tomorrow.

5 Oct

MDG summit reflections

Joseph Donnelly, Caritas International Delegation to the UN

One week after UN’s high-level meeting focused on human development and global responsibility, streets around international headquarters no longer congested, confronting ordinary NYC lifestyles. Urban calm, such as it exists, even as General Assembly high security is replaced by other alerts. Life in this city, as in thousands around the world, still needing answers for its poor citizens.

Meanwhile, to be sure, there is an enduring momentum from the MDG Summit held last week. Journalists, analysts, economists, concerned citizens, NGOs, faith-based organisation leaders. Stake holders far and wide weighing in with updated poverty eradication strategies and resources.

That’s the deal now in October: what we shared, advocated and learned from MDG meetings. Beyond the calculations and guesstimates remains the intense confrontation called 2015. To that end few are actually saying: “Summit was a failure…” despite many solid concerns.

More seem to be saying: “We know better what’s missing; we have tools to better monitor goals.” Others have said this last week: “I gave up on MDGs a few years ago thinking not much happens.” “Looks like there’s clarity, smart processing for next concrete steps; some governments acting.” Surprisingly, the fragile word ‘hope’ has been used to say: “We have not given up; will not let go.”

For Caritas, this is where we are accompanying every poor person we know, we meet, we find. No matter how hard we have worked from 2009-2010 with 24 million people with certain needs, We discover daily the gaps, the black holes, new lessons learned, circumstances and people. No matter how much ‘fixing’ we may have done, much remains broken or neglected.

For Caritas – this is another dose of reality, to talk with our sisters and brothers who are poor. This is another re-focused moment to speak with local and national partners to do more better. Our mandate demands we help all in need everywhere we are, to echo their voices not our own.

In Washington, American colleagues clamoured at Congress and Senate about 44 million poor this week. Caritas colleagues around the world adding compassionate intelligence with development expertise. Questions are being asked of our global confederation: “What do you see, what can Caritas do?” “Where does poverty eradication fit in your organisation’s strategic plan for 2011, 2013, 2015?”

Matching our own internal review come other assessments, reports, recommendations. There’s is recognition within Caritas and across diverse partnerships that: the poor call us home. Caritas mandate: precious people everywhere reminding us who we are, where we belong.

One week since UN’s official MDG Summit wrapped up long-planned talks and round tables, we have been invited once more to claim our place at the global table of intentional fellowship. Pressed today to use our leadership to take others with us toward 2015 implementations.

We go there as Caritas, as precisely the Gospel-mandated, inspired Catholic community we have consistently announced ourselves to be in poor countries and rich countries, in times of abundance and abandonment, to people and places we know as our communities. Caritas are being heard – no time to be silent.

24 Sep

Italy’s poor aid performance

A BBC report looking at Italy’s poor performance on aid, featuring an interview with Caritas

24 Sep

MDG Summit: what does it all mean?

By Joseph Donnelly, New York

What happened at UN headquarters this week? What difference did all the planning, processing do to accelerate MDG implementations? What will the effects be on two billion poor people’s lives in cities and villages around the world?

The next most important question, the one most frequently asked remains. Will more money be pledged and delivered to achieve the MDGs in the next 5 years? Basically the answer is no, not really, not much, not right now, not exactly.

Summit came, went, but didn’t come up with more financial resources to save more lives. Summit came, went quite seriously into substantive debate about extreme poverty. But summit leaders of the world were not prepared to make more money commitments now.

There were significant updated statements made for more effective human development. There were significant declarations offered to work more deliberately for global partnerships. There were significant gaps matching urgent crises with scandalous limited resources.

What will happen now? When will the means to alleviate human suffering as pledged in 2000 be realised?
Where will the political will move radically forward to prevent further destruction of life?

Hard transparent questions daily demand honest answers. Hard times in the last years added to the struggle, but the means remain available for most countries. Hard to imagine that what must happen will not happen well if so many doors are shut.

Here’s the deal: developing countries require substantial support from developed countries. Here’s the deal: developing countries need to take careful credible responsibility on their side too. Here’s the deal: development effectiveness demands new paradigms to end dependency models.

What did happen at the summit is that there’s clarity in the confrontation with the facts. Statistics have been cut open to intensely clarify more precisely who the poor are and live today. Noted that not all poor people live in poor countries, poverty needs to be met not read.

Optimism, pessimism, scepticism has criss-crossed clashed with realism this week. Beyond rhetoric and diplomatic duties many Member States seem ripened to act better. More than meeting MDG taglines world leaders must put more money in the people’s bank.

We wonder why it is so difficult to see and act on the simple equation: save lives. We wonder why when we have global means to make life-saving differences, we wait. We wonder why poor and vulnerable people often in squalor and conflict are left behind.

Be sure there were benefits from bringing world leaders together this week, seen not heard. Be sure absolutely that some smart recommendations got on the table, will translate action. Be sure NGOs, civil society, private sector added dramatic reality checks for changes needed.

It was intense, exceptionally expensive, intersection with peoples of the world for one week. MDG languages of last decade came from previous decades of charity, aid relief, recovery. No more promises are needed to deliver sustainable development. Simply do it.

Summit days introduced Caritas delegation to princes, presidents, experts, advisers. Summit meetings inserted Caritas into polite confrontations between talk and reality, past and present. Summit movements, being on site at UN, gave Caritas options for the poor here and now.

We came, we saw, we actually conquered some of the long deafening silence about poverty. We added the vast Caritas witness to the ways we walk with sisters and brothers. We were invited again: hold active place at aid effectiveness leadership for 2011-2015 and beyond.

We are Caritas: committed, invested, engaged with urgency to achieve Zero Poverty. The Caritas Voices Against Poverty campaign confirms our commitment to walk with the poor.

23 Sep

The way forward for a global development partnership

By Joseph Donnelly, Caritas Internationalis permanent delegate to the UN

Caritas sits right now inside the UN facility in the GA conference Room, one of four Civil Society Organisations (CSO) invited to engage the global debate. Fr Ambroise Tine from Caritas Senegal sits at the table in between an Asian colleague and a Latin American. He sits and waits for the protocol to roll out where NGO representatives are given the floor after the government representatives and UN experts speak. This is where the struggle takes place to move global beyond the rhetoric and dig more deeply, carving new ways forward.

People are coming. People are going. Some listening quite carefully. Some clearly distracted. As ever, one tyrannical aspect of democratic dialogue is the constant flow of fact and theory from competing challenges, practical and political, while the poor wait to be most up front on all our agendas. Read More »

22 Sep

What about human security?

By Joseph Donnelly, Caritas Internationalis permanent delegate to the UN

In the grand order of things, amidst the effects of climate change and local environmental instabilities, weather conditions in NY have perfectly matched the hopeful mood of summit goers and staff alike. It has been perfect conditions wherein to carefully consider so many hard things, aching needs and great hopes to lift up tens of millions of lives, still adding into one billion plus plus.

More is not always more. Sometimes more is less. Striking the balance between more and less is another “fine” art. More security, estimated to cost $8,000.000 this week in New York, to “protect” the summit. More access to direct intergovernmental negotiations but fewer seats for civil society at the table. More details on where MDG implementations have gone in the last decade, but less certainty still how goals can best be shaped into transparent mechanisms – and with effective cross-sector monitoring. It’s like security itself – as today there are police and security agents in every possible variations here. They are women and men, young and old. They are on the streets, on the rooftops, in our buildings and favorite coffee shops. They on bikes, in trucks, cars, fancy limousines, motorcycles, taxis. Without many words they are fully present within mandated priorities. Yet they know little or nothing of the substance of the summit. Read More »

22 Sep

Cardinal Turkson at UN on the Millennium Development Goals

Statement of His Eminence Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Head of the Delegation of the Holy See, Summit of Heads of State and Government on the Millennium Development Goals

New York, 20 September 2010

Mr. President,
I have the honour to convey the cordial greetings of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Heads of State and Government assembled here during these days to work together towards a world free of the plague of extreme poverty and to ensure that all children, women and men in every country of the world have the conditions necessary to live their lives in freedom and dignity. Read More »