People’s Needs Come First at Geneva Session

It is usually a military or an economic emergency that brings world leaders together, but at the 1995 World Submit for Social Development, 177 heads of state and government met in Copenhagen , Denmark, to discuss another issue of growing importance at the international level-the well-being of people and the need for human security in this age of globalization.

Copenhagen was the first concerted global effort to address the impact of the global economy on the lives of people, and the Social Summit produced a 10-point Declaration and a Program of Action aimed at eradicating poverty, achieving full employment and strengthening social integration.

The UN General Assembly is holding a special session to review what has happened since Copenhagen and to decide on what to do next.

The meeting of June 26-30 is timely. The debate about globalization-or how it can be made to work for everyone-has quickly become a priority agenda item, at the local, national and international levels.

It has moved from conference venues and closed cabinet and board rooms into the streets of seattle, Washington and Bangkok. The UN Special Session in Geneva is an opportunity for goverments to find common ground to meet these new challenges.

Preparing for this session faced varying perceptions of current trends. The United States, for example, views globalization as potentially universally benefical, and has stressed that increased trade and financia flows could facilitate faster economic growth and poverty reduction.

But developing countries note that the United States receives two thirds of all international investment at present and most developing countries get next to nothing.

Poverty and unemployment have fallen in some countries and risen in others but overall there has been only slow progress. In the past five years, some problems have intensified, such as international financial volatility.

The East Asian financial crisis had a widespread impact on developing countries both in and outside the region. The economic and social damage was pervasive, and although the economies of Korea and Thailand have rebounded sooner than expected, many of the hardships caused by the crisis still endure.

Debates within countries are as intense about some of these questions as they are between countries. But there are also many shared objectives. There is unanimous commitment amongst countries to the values of dignity, freedom and social justice for all.

All countries are united in reaffirming to the Copenhagen commitments. For the first time, the UN member states have agreed to adopt a global goal of reducing “the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by one half by the yea 2015.”

The agreements go further. To empower the poor, and to help people living on poverty help themselves, it is recognized that basic education and health services for all is crucial. Countries have agreed that there must be a mechanism to ensure the availability of credit, especially vital for small and micro-enterprises.

Countries have also agreed on the need to promote gender equality; to adopt strategies for the aging; to set targets for reducing HIV/AIDS infection; to increase incentives for pharmaceutical companies; to invest in research on diseases common in developing countries; to develop domestic sources of revenue to pay for essential infrastructure, social services and social protection; and to improve international coopertation on tax matters.

A number of important sticking points remain to be resolved. Issues of central concern to developing countries include improved market access for exports from developing countries, debt reduction and reform of the structures and policies of the international financial institutions.

Issues proposed by the United States and the European Union that are yet to be settled include good governance. Labour rights and the social responsibilities of business. A proposal for work on clear statement of sound principles and good practice of social policy also remains unresolved.

In a surprising development, a Canadian proposal to study tha adventages and disadvantages of a small, national currency transaction tax to reduce financial volatility and raise revenue has received increasing support. The EU has moved from opposition to support and the developing countries, originally lukewarm to the idea, now support it. The United States and Japan are still opposed to the idea.

Negotiations during the Geneva Special Session will be difficult, given the extent ot the disagreements between countries on man important issues.

Nevertheless, the agreements made so far are strong.

The careful and painstaking process of negotiation is also a sign of hope. When decisions are taken after intensive consideration-as they have been in this process-they are more likely to stick. The geneva Session is well on the way to producing firm commitments for further action. It will provide a basis for governments and people to translate words into action.

By John Langmore

Adapted from the Jakarta Post, June 29, 2000

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