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Roberto Bissio, coordinator of Social Watch, at the U.N. Conference on the world financial crisis

Social Watch

As a representative of civil society, Roberto Bissio, coordinator of Social Watch, spoke at the Official Round Table at the UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development that took place June 24-26, 2009 in New York.

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Official Round Table at the UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development. June 24-26

Round Table 1– Wednesday, 24 June 2009, 3 to 6 p.m.

Theme: The role of the United Nations and its Member States in the ongoing international discussions on reforming and strengthening the international financial and economic system and architecture

Roberto Bissio: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As the first civil society speaker in this round table --and I hope that there is time for more civil society speakers to express a diversity of opinions, as there are five of us here-- let me congratulate you and the excellent panels and the excellent interventions we have heard from country delegates.

Our role as civil society is always to demand more, but it is also our duty today to congratulate the government negotiators that worked so hard over the past days to achieve the consensus that was announced today. I think we have now an extremely important outcome document of this High Level Conference. Nobody is extremely happy about that document, but that is always the case with a consensus outcome and that shows everybody had to give in something and achieved something. But the important fact is that we have a G192 Consensus, which is something that many comments in the press had said was impossible to achieve. It has been done and that should be cellebrated.

It was said that the United Nations could not have a say in the economic crisis, because it was impossible for the United Nations to find a common voice. That common voice has been found, and it has not been found on the basis of the lowest possible common denominator. This is not a minimalistic consensus. The analysis of the root causes of the economic crisis that we can read in the consensus document of the G192 is much better than any analysis produced by other intergovernmental fora, in spite of the very little time that negotiators had to achieve these results and also in spite of active boycotts of those vested interests that do not want a voice of the United Nations to be heard, and do not want the necessary changes and regulations advocated in this document to happen. This is an important document precisely because those vested interests do exist and everybody knows which they are.

Let me just underline some of the aspects of that consensus that we consider extremely important, and which extend beyond the analysis of the crisis and it’s causes, which we praise, but also refer to the future perspectives: a working group is to be created, and the civil society organizations are committed to support the work of that working group, including with active participation in the Panel of Experts, that has also been created, and where civil society together with academia and other stakeholders are being invited to take part. We appreciate that invitation and commit our efforts into that.

We also understand that paragraph 16, which acknowledges, precisely, the role of the G20 also resolves “to strengthen the role of the United Nations and its Member States in economic and financial affairs, including its coordinating role”. We all know here we are talking about the Economic Coordinating Council. Time has not been enough to achieve a consensus about it, but the consensus about the UN having a coordinating role is there, and we congratulate you all for expressing that consensus.

We also understand that when paragraph 34 mentions the governments' commitment to “explore the need and feasibility of a more structured framework for international cooperation” in the area of sovereign debt, what we are talking here, is really about a public debt workout mechanism. Such a mechanism will be badly needed. The World Bank has warned us that, as a consequence of the crisis, forty countries have less than three months of imports in their reserves. They are very likely to default unilaterally if such a mechanism is not created.

On paragraph 18 we find an analysis of how globalization has limited the policy space of developing countries. This text goes beyond what was agreed in Doha last December, during the Financing for Development summit and lists the concerns of developing countries and their policiy options: “safeguarding progress achieved towards implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, effective use of credit and liquidity facilities, regulation of local financial markets, institutions, instruments and capital flows, and limited trade defence measures”. What we need now is to go further than that and create the enabling environment for countries whishing to work their way out the crisis, to have that policy space, including a revision of bilateral and multilateral free trade and investment agreements when necessary.

Mister Chairman, billions, even trillions of dollars have been going in the last months to rich persons, in the form of tax exceptions of different kinds, as well as to very rich and bankrupted institutions. Most of the money of those stimulus packages has gone into savings and into rebuilding assets and has therefore not created more demand or credit. It has not been a very efficient stimulus. At Social Watch we think that the best stimulus package is to invest in the poor, both in the poor people and in the poor countries. The money that reaches the poor is actually being spent, not because people living in poverty have a better understanding of what their role in rescueing the global economy must be, but just because they do not have another choice. Investing in people living in poverty is therefore ethically the right thing to do, but it is also economically the wise path to take. That is our main message.

Thank you very much Mr. Chairman

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