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Development: IMF ready for talks with World Social Forum!

SUNS #5217 Tuesday 22 October 2002

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 done.

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 $2.5 trillion.

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 access."

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."


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