US blocks Brown-led drive for increase in aid

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Posted by Alli ( on January 23, 2002 at 15:21:55:

US blocks Brown-led drive for increase in aid
Charlotte Denny, economics correspondent

Wednesday January 23, 2002

The US government is blocking an international drive led by Britain to increase aid for the world's poorest countries in the wake of last year's terrorist attacks.

With less than two months to go before a crucial UN summit on global poverty in Monterrey, Mexico, US officials are trying to neuter the draft declaration which calls for rich countries to raise the amount they spend on helping the 2.8bn people who live on less than $2 a day.

The conference, which is strongly backed by the chancellor, Gordon Brown, has been called to discuss ways of helping poor countries reduce poverty, cut infant mortality and provide universal primary education. But the US is seeking to delete any mention of the internationally agreed development goals and of the suggestion that rich countries should meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income on aid.

Washington is already one of the least generous donors - despite being the world's largest economy - devoting just 0.1% of national output to its international aid effort.

Britain and other, more generous donors, had hoped that the renewed US interest in multilateral action during the war on Afghanistan would help bring about a change of heart regarding aid within the Bush adminstration.

In a speech in Washington last December, Gordon Brown called on the world's richest countries to double their spending on aid as part of a global "Marshall plan" for reconstructing not only Afghanistan but the entire developing world.

Without a sharp rise in aid budgets, Mr Brown fears the world will fail to meet international goals by 2015.

Some campaigners hoped that this signalled a willingness by western governments to consider radical new measures for raising revenue such as a Tobin tax on foreign exchange transactions or a global carbon tax.

But these have been vetoed by the US - even before the latest attempts to water down the draft communiqué.

Aid agencies attending preparations in New York this week for the Monterrey summit report that American officials have described the 0.7% target as an "outdated concept", and that they are pressing for it to be dropped from the final declaration.

The American attitude has provoked disquiet among fellow donor countries and outrage among the development charities.

"It seems the US will only tolerate multilateralism à la carte, and development, global redistribution and the interests of the poor are now off the menu," said Henry Northover, a policy adviser at Cafod, the Catholic aid agency.

Instead of discussing increased aid budgets, Washington wants the conference to focus on how poor countries can improve their own economic performance through further market liberalisation.

The US treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, is sceptical about the effectiveness of international aid efforts, arguing that the money donated is wasted by corrupt and ineffective governments.

In Tokyo this week at an international conference on rebuilding Afghanistan, Mr O'Neill warned that support for the interim Afghan government would be withdrawn if donors discovered the money had been misused.

The aid agencies say a proposed campaign to raise public awareness of the targets, led by the UN development programme, is opposed by the US - which believes it amounts to an infringement of national sovereignty.

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