Prague, 20 Oct (IPS/Alejandro Kirk)
-- The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is ready to
start a dialogue with the World Social Forum at its
third conference in Porto Alegre in Brazil early next
year, deputy managing director of the IMF Eduardo
Aninat told IPS on 20 October.
"If invited to Porto Alegre and given space to be
heard, I'll go," Aninat said at the end of a two-day
conference in Prague on globalization and development.
The conference was organised jointly by Forum 2000,
the foundation led by Czech President Vaclav Havel,
and the Nippon Foundation.
Delegates agreed on the creation of an independent
international body that would undertake to arbitrate
on debt issues; reduction of agricultural subsidies in
the US, Europe and Japan; and on making trade rules
transparent and fair.
Apart from this the conference ended with the expected
variety of harsh disagreements - with the IMF, the
World Bank and business representatives on one side
and civil society activists and scholars on the other.
The Prague conference split into four round-tables on
20 October to discuss external debt, double standards
in trade and finance, uneven flow of information
between North and South, and the social and
environmental responsibility of corporations.
Nobody claimed that corporations or the system of
international trade and finance were playing fair with
the developing world. But differences became apparent
on where responsibilities lie and what needs to be
Representatives of non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) such as Anuradha Mittal of Food First, Ricardo
Navarro of Friends of the Earth, Nioki Njorogue Niehu
of 50 Years is Enough and Naima Sadique of the Women's
Action Forum of Pakistan argued that the root of the
problem lies in the current concept of global trade.
The NGO representatives said that international
financial agencies understand trade to mean export of
agricultural produce and natural resources from
developing countries to pay for external debts, and
not to acquire needed imports.
Mats Karlsson, vice-president of external
communications at the World Bank, replied that this is
not what democratically elected leaders of developing
countries are looking for. "They want more trade, less
barriers, less subsidies, more access to credit and
more foreign investment to create jobs," he said.
US-born French political scientist and activist Susan
George challenged the role of the international
financial institutions. She said that 20 years ago
global debt was $450 billion, and now it has reached
Emergency relief plans for external debts had been
launched in 1985. These figures must mean that
something has gone wrong, she said.
She challenged the legitimacy of a huge portion of
this debt on the grounds of "continuity of the state."
A lot of debt had been built up by dictators and is
now being paid by the working and middle classes of
indebted countries, she said, citing Zaire, the
Philippines, Brazil and Argentina as examples.
Mario Cafiero, a political leader from Argentina, said
that the IMF had made no attempt to investigate
Argentina's debts first under the military regime
(1976-83) and then under civilian governments when a
group of bankers and businessmen "used the external
funds to funnel money out of the country."
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) argued that
institutions would have to be transformed or just
eliminated, and transnational corporations brought
under the rule of law.
But Marc Sarkady, co-founder of the Calvert Social
Investment Fund in the US, said that companies could
be convinced through dialogue to change their culture.
Delegates were pleased that some dialogue had taken
place in Prague.
Susan George publicly thanked the sponsors of the
meeting for providing an opportunity to talk to
"people in power to whom we don't normally have easy
Aninat said that strong statements on all sides are a
part of the "game" of negotiations between the civil
society movement and the powers-that-be.
Former South African president Frederik de Klerk said
that towards the end of the apartheid regime in South
Africa, his government and the African National
Congress led by Nelson Mandela were determined to
reach an agreement. That determination, he said, was
born of a shared persuasion that without agreement
South Africa would face catastrophe.
The Prague meeting too had demonstrated that it is
possible for people who rarely speak directly to one
another to sit together and seek ways of
understanding, he said. De Klerk seemed to have the
last word: "Truth has many faces, not just one."