G20 Discusses More Than Syria: Rich Countries’ Commitment to Poor Countries’ Development

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syria-viewSeptember 5, 2013; Voltaire Network

Based on American news coverage, the G20 summit last week in Saint Petersburg seemed to give only passing attention to the formal issues on its agenda, preoccupied instead with meetings “on the margin” concerning President Obama’s unsuccessful lobbying of G20 leaders to support his proposed military action against Syria.

That’s not entirely true. One document that was released just before the summit, intended for discussion by the world leaders, was the Saint Petersburg Development Outlook, an effort by the rich countries of the world to develop and articulate a development agenda targeting issues in developing countries. The G20 development priorities are listed and described in the annex of the report:

  • Food security: “The international community is grappling with the twin tasks of alleviating immediate suffering and the longer-term challenge of feeding a growing and rapidly urbanizing population…Food security and nutrition require sustainable production and productivity growth with a particular emphasis on smallholder and family farmers development needs, gender equality and women empowerment, decent jobs especially in rural areas, comprehensive rural development, responsible investment, capacity building, transparent and efficient markets, increased resilience, reduction of food losses and wastes, safety nets and better nutrition for everyone. The G20 can best add value through political leadership to foster a coordinated, integrated and longer-term approach in most of these areas.”
  • Financial inclusion and remittances: “If available at critical moments, effective tools for savings, payment, credit and insurance can increase households’ resilience to crises and help them seize opportunities to escape poverty. Evidence also suggests that people with a bank account or access to savings instruments consume more, have higher incomes, invest in preventative healthcare and are less vulnerable…By focusing on the development potential of remittances, the [G20 Development Working Group] can lead efforts to reduce the global average costs of sending remittances and thereby increasing the money flowing back to developing countries.”
  • Infrastructure: “The lack of appropriate [sustainable] infrastructure impedes a country’s competitiveness, productivity, human resource development, delivery of key social services and participation in the global economy…Given the scale and importance of the infrastructure challenge in developing countries, the G20 should continue to support efforts to improve project preparation funds (PPF)…reinforce…the importance of public-private partnerships, and promote…ongoing improvements…to optimize sources of finance.”
  • Human resource development: “In many developing countries, the lack of adequate skills for employment is a major bottleneck for economic growth. The existing educational and technical vocational education and training systems often do not provide students with the basic skills and qualifications required in the labour market. Therefore even those who are with high qualifications end up unemployed or getting jobs that under-utilize their skills…Policies should encourage dialogue between employers and education and training providers as well as develop capacity building among top-managers and trainers in technical and vocational education and training systems and institutions to exchange best practices in skills development.”
  • Domestic resource mobilization: “Reliance on internal resources strengthens a country’s ownership of public policy and increases accountability to citizens. Greater accountability naturally leads to a greater and more coordinated effort by government to fight illicit financial flows and corruption, in all its forms…Strengthening the tax administrations of developing countries, particularly [Low Income Countries], constitutes the main response to these challenges.”

Is the G20 serious about development priorities in the developing world? Does anyone really care what the G20 leaders say about international development? Some nonprofit development organizations are paying attention. World Vision issued a brief but pointed critique of the G20 statement, noting that the G20 Outlook “doesn’t mention children once, which is worrying in its implication.” World Vision notes that “for every five percent decrease in the number of their children dying under the age of five, a country’s economy grows by one percent every year, for ten years” and suggests that improving the health and education prospects of children under the age of five should be a G20 development priority. Similarly, the human resources component of the Outlook statement, World Vision says, “needs to target the health sector, and…the importance of cognitive development.”

Examining the G20’s focus on economic development as a means of lifting people out of poverty, World Vision adds, “there is no specific mention of addressing inequality, which is key to ensuring economic growth tackles poverty. Economic growth does not on its own improve poverty, the trickle-down effect is a myth.”

It is hard to know whether agendas like the Saint Petersburg Development Outlook mean anything for the behavior of rich countries, but the critique from World Vision, delivered calmly and respectfully, is important for letting the big countries know that nonprofits are watching and won’t let these issues slip.—Rick Cohen