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EU criticizes US aid targets

By GARETH HARDING, UPI Europe Correspondent 7/31/2002

BRUSSELS, July 31 (UPI) -- The European Union's top development official has criticized the United States for failing to make any progress towards meeting international aid targets and warned that next month's Earth Summit in South Africa is "in danger of turning into a talking shop."

Over 30 years ago, United Nations members committed themselves to handing over 0.7 percent of gross national product as overseas development aid.

However, between 1990 and 2000, U.S. overseas aid fell from 0.21 percent of GNP to 0.10 percent -- the lowest figure of any developed nation.

The EU's 15 member states have also failed to meet the U.N. target, but earlier this year pledged to increase overseas aid from 0.33 to 0.39 percent of GNP by 2006 -- equivalent to an extra $22 billion -- and to work towards the 0.7 per cent goal in the long-term.

Despite a one-off injection of funds at a United Nations pledging conference in Monterrey earlier this year, the Republican administration in Washington recently rubbished the 0.7 percent target -- a decision denounced by EU Development Commissioner Poul Nielson.

"The EU strongly rejects the U.S. stance," Nielson told United Press International. "It sends the wrong signal and is not the kind of leadership the world wants."

The former Danish development minister urged rich countries to honor commitments to increase aid and market access made at the Monterrey and Doha conferences. "Any hint of backtracking on announcements made in Doha and Monterrey would create a very poor negotiating climate for Johannesburg," said Nielson.

Over 100 world leaders and 60,000 government, business and NGO delegates are expected to attend the Johannesburg summit, which will last from Aug. 26 to Sept. 4.

The aim of the meeting is to breathe new life into the sustainable development process a decade after the term was coined at the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

The EU wants developed countries to reaffirm the 0.7 percent target and sign up to a raft of concrete goals aimed at reducing poverty while protecting the environment.

However, most states -- including the United States -- are wary of agreeing to new goals, prompting fears that the Johannesburg summit will be an expensive flop.

Nielson admitted that there was a "danger Johannesburg will turn into a talking shop" and warned there was a "risk of inertia taking over."

However, the Development Commissioner staunchly defended the decision to convene the 'Rio +10' conference.

"If you look at what's been achieved in mobilizing public opinion against such things as illegal logging or the rape of global fisheries resources, it is absolutely reasonable to have a big international conference to take stock of what's happened and act as a catalyst for future action," Nielson told UPI.

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