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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Conference Focuses on Poor

MONTERREY, Mexico -- A UN conference aimed at helping impoverished countries get a bigger share of global wealth opened Monday with major powers offering differing plans and critics fearing the result will be generalities and not specific solutions.

Speakers at the weeklong conference, which is drawing more than 50 leaders including U.S. President George W. Bush, stressed a key aim was to encourage business leaders to do more to funnel investment to developing nations.

"Foreign direct investment is the lifeblood of successful economic growth in poor countries, but it's incredibly concentrated in a few countries," U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs told the International Conference on Financing for Development.

"Business needs to attend to the issue of equity as well as efficiency," Sachs told the conference in this northeastern Mexican industrial city.

The goal of the meeting is to produce a roadmap for poor nations looking for the financial resources they need to halve, by 2015, the number of people in the world now living on less than a dollar a day.

The strategy, laid out in a draft declaration to be put to a vote of UN member-nations Friday, looks to freer trade, greater foreign investment, more government-to-government development aid and debt relief to provide the needed funds.

Even before its adoption, the conference declaration has come under fire from critics who dismiss it as a laundry list of broad policy possibilities rather than a detailed roadmap.

The declaration's lack of specific commitments reflects in part the serious differences over precisely how to slash poverty worldwide.

Washington and European states have unveiled rival plans to dish out more money and both fall short of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's ambitious goal of doubling aid levels over the next few years.

The U.S. plan put forward last week gave out an extra $5 billion in aid over three years to reward poor nations that respect human rights, root out corruption and open markets. The aid would come in the form of grants rather than loans but would not begin to flow until the 2004 U.S. budget year.

Acting on the same day, the European Union's 15 member nations agreed to lift development aid spending to an average of 0.39 percent of gross national product by 2006.

That compares to the 0.33 percent of GNP -- or $25.4 billion -- in aid they contributed in 2000, the latest year for which figures are available.

The draft declaration also reflects the hard times that have gripped rich and poor nations alike since the Sept. 11 suicide airliner attacks on the United States that sent the global economy reeling.

Mark Malloch Brown, who heads the UN Development Program, said Sept. 11 had brought rich and poor closer together.

"Poor people whose needs are unmet are no longer a problem in a distant part of the world," he said. "As was so horribly illustrated on Sept. 11, the weakest link in the global chain is a weak link for everyone."

While other recent international conferences on global finances have had to cope with violent protesters, the problem has not yet surfaced in Monterrey, where demonstrators have so far been few and focused more on local issues.

One march near the conference site drew only about 30 protesters Monday, most of them angry about plans to build a new Mexico City airport in the nearby town of San Salvador Atenco.

Some of the marchers carried machetes, but ended up using the weapons not to threaten police but to slaughter three goats as a symbol of their anger.

About a hundred people -- including 20 women in miniskirts -- marched Sunday in favor of "democracy in the street and in bed."

Organizers said they were angry about local rules suggested a few years ago, but never adopted, that threatened to put restrictions on scanty clothing.