BWI reform discussed at UN dialogues

5 November 2003

The UN Financing for Development (FfD) process held its first high-level follow-up to assess progress over three days in New York, 28 – 30 October. The key issues on the agenda were mobilizing financial resources for development; trade as an engine for development; technical cooperation for development; external debt; and addressing the coherence of the international monetary, financial and trading systems in support of development. The latter issue included discussions on the governance structures of the Bretton Woods Institutions (BWIs) and the relationship between the UN and the BWIs.

Hearings were held on the first day of the dialogues to provide an opportunity for civil society and private sector representatives to present their analysis of follow-up on the Monterrey commitments. The groundbreaking presence of civil society representatives in the process has been facilitated by the International Facilitating Group which was formed in April 2002 to coordinate NGO monitoring of the follow-up of the Monterrey commitments. The first civil society panel, chaired by Roberto Bissio of Social Watch, focused on the case for increased development assistance, greater participation in agreements with the BWIs, the linking of debt to progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the creation of a fair and transparent arbitration procedure. The second panel, chaired by Emira Woods of the Institute for Policy Studies, included discussion of redefining the roles of the BWIs within the UN, and the importance of the Economics and Social Affairs Council (ECOSOC) as a locus for discussion on governance reform and coherence issues. The hearings were very poorly attended by UN country delegates, having to compete with a number of other key discussions which had been scheduled at the same time.

Day two brought a series of roundtables which allowed for country delegates and representatives of intergovernmental organisations, civil society and the private sector to debate the issues at further length. High-level participation was limited after the withdrawal of the WTO Director General led other intergovernmental heads to de-prioritise the roundtables. Topics covered included regional dimensions of FfD implementation; coherence issues; and linkages between the FfD commitments and attainment of the MDGs. The coherence panel saw agreement between several country representatives, the G-24 and NGOs on the need for radical reform of the governance of the BWIs. Proposals included strengthening the oversight function of ECOSOC with regard to the BWIs and the WTO; the creation of an ECOSOC secretariat; Summit meetings at the beginning of each General Assembly to deal with coherency issues; and the formation of ECOSOC working groups to examine trade-debt-finance linkages.

The third day of the dialogues finally saw the arrival of the heads of the intergovernmental agencies and ministerial representatives. Bank president James Wolfensohn returned to a familiar theme, saying that “everyone knows the steps that need to be taken and the issue is to take action.” Head of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, Rubens Ricupero, may have disagreed with Wolfensohn’s assessment, pointing out that “those who implemented the elements of the consensus have experienced crisis because they adopted these measures.” The UK delegation put in a plug for the International Financing Facility, emphasized the importance of getting multilateral trade talks back on track and reminded delegates of the importance of coordination and harmonisation. Comments from civil society were limited by the format of the dialogue.

The president of the General Assembly, Julian Hunte of St Lucia, took up these issues in his summary of the dialogues. Negotiations are to take place in the current session of the General Assembly on drawing up a detailed work plan.