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LDC Meet Ends with Programme of Action and "Deliverables"

by Emmanuel.K.Bensah
25 May, 2001
ICDA Secretariat

In an atmosphere distinctly different from its beginning , the Third United Nations Conference on LDCs ended on a somewhat subdued note on Sunday 20 May. Gone were the sleek cars, and the dapper suits were few and far between. What remained, however, was some talk, last-minute discussion, and a final clamouring by both Civil Society and delegates to see what else could be added to the final document, the Programme of Action.

According to the final edition of the conference paper, which was produced by the Brussels-based IPS news agency, the conference cost a whopping $12 million - just one million less than the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) of one of the poorer LDCs in the Caribbean - Haiti. In fact FDI was but one of the host of acronyms that filled the corridors of the European Parliament the whole week this UN Conference was being hosted by the EU. After hearing "LDCs"-- ad inifinitum -- throughout the week, you were lucky if you missed someone talking about how the HIPC could adversely affect the EBA proposal if the ACP countries did not take into account the FDI of those whose GDP was less than $900. Unclear? Not to worry, for much of the conversation was replete with these, and their French equivalents. As if that were not bad enough, one started to hear what both UN and EU officials classified as "Deliverables". This was to be the litmus test for the conference -- to see how realistic deliverables were.

According to the Third World Economics magazine, such deliverables included the contentious Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative, as well as the OECD's decision to "untie" aid. The former, brainchild of EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, extends duty-free treatment to all products exported by LDCs; whereas the former is a decision not to link aid to procurement from the donor source. In other words, aid will no longer be contingent on a quid-pro-quo basis, where recepients are forced to buy donor's goods. Still, one could not help but feel that a lot of forcing was being done by the EU as it urged the LDCs, by hook or by crook, to welcome the fourth Ministerial Conference to be held in Doha in November.

Goaded by the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, who expressed the belief that "the best hope for LDCs, and indeed the developing world in general, lies in a new round of global, multilateral trade negotiations", the EU went full steam ahead in their exhortations. That Annan added "this time it ought to be a true development round", was nothing to ruffle the EU's feathers over this synthetic rhetoric of altruism they were flying. They had most probably heard it before from their own Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, who has, himself, been very busy pushing for a new round. Whether his EBA inititative will adversely affect the Cotonou Agreement, signed June 2000 between 77 members of the ACP Group and the EU, is something Lamy avoids tactfully. Whether he knows, as much as NGOs, the extent to which what the Third World Economics calls "the EU's web of trade preferences", would hinder rather than help the Least Developed Countries, is a moot point.

For opponents of Lamy's initiative - and there are many within Civil Society -- the implications are somewhat sinister in the sense that its ultimate purpose is to split the LDCs and the members of the Brussels-based African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group from the other developing countries opposing a new round. For these detractors, some solace can be found from the fact that neither 'promises' from the Programme of Action, nor the so-called 'deliverables' have given vent to the zeal of the LDCs for a positive outcome.

This is not necessarily a diagnosis for gloom, but what the EU has granted does leave somewhat of a bittersweet taste in the LDC mouth, as well as prompt speculation on how far things will change for the better in regard to LDCs. To boot, the outcomes for substantive change remain as elusive as the promulgation of the two previous LDC Conferences in Paris in 1981 and 1990. Civil Society, particularly NGOs, has expressed unqualified disappointment. Oxfam said of the conference: "the results are meagre and disappointing...Almost everything announced last week at Brussels, was there before." For those like myself who had not been old enough -- let alone interested enough --to understand what the conference was about, I got the impression that some of the proceedings were somewhat déjà-vu. This much was exemplified by an Ethiopian delegate who sat next to me on the last day to listen to UNCTAD Secretary-General Rubens Ricupero and a group of government officials declare the Programme of Action in force. Just as the applause died down, he muttered "That's what they said last time, I'm sure of it".

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Last Updated: Friday 25 April 2003 @ 12.33pm EST

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