Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (89)

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

217 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will elaborate on views expressed at a recent seminar in Rome concerning Government policy on poor country debt relief; the efforts he is making to change those aspects of the World Bank-IMF heavily indebted poor countries initiative identified by the Government as problematic; the level of support among other countries for the views he expressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25317/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

My predecessor, Deputy Kitt, as Minister of State with responsibility for development co-operation and human rights, attended a seminar in Rome entitled, Poverty and Globalisation: Financing for Development, including the millennium development goals, on Friday, 9 July 2004. The seminar was organised by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and attracted, among others, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, senior representatives of the French, US, Italian and a number of African Governments. Representatives of civil society and development NGOs were also present.

The former Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, based his intervention at the seminar on the policy document on developing country debt developed by the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Finance and launched in July 2002. The document commits us to work for 100% debt cancellation for the poorest countries and highlights a number of problems with the operation of the World Bank's heavily indebted poor country, HIPC, initiative.

Among the problems with HIPC, which the former Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, cited at the seminar were: the need to pay more attention to human development criteria and less to hard economic indicators such as exports; the need to take greater account of the impact of HIV-AIDS on the poorest, disproportionately HIPC, countries of sub-Saharan Africa; and the inadequacy of the HIPC criteria in estimating a country's ability to sustain debt. He also emphasised our belief that any enhancement of HIPC must be financed by financial resources in addition to those already earmarked for overseas development aid.

The former Minister of State addressed the related issues of the need for increases in ODA flows to developing countries and the search for innovative sources of development financing. He again emphasised that all funds accruing from innovative sources should be in addition to the commitment to increased levels of ODA.

Prior to the Holy See seminar, Ireland's Presidency of the European Union offered us a number of opportunities to focus attention on the issue of poor country debt relief, debt sustainability and debt cancellation. The Taoiseach reaffirmed our commitment when he addressed the European Parliament in January 2004. The Minister for Foreign Affairs ensured that the discussion on development issues at the April meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council gave a new impetus to the EU's already significant commitment to HIPC and to debt relief generally. When the EU Ministers for development met in Dublin in June, debt was among the central issues discussed, with trade and HIV-AIDS, and given added emphasis by the presence of Bono, internationally recognised for his campaign for Africa, as guest of honour. At the EU-Africa ministerial meeting in Dublin in April, Ministers welcomed the joint report prepared by debt experts from the African and European sides on the nature, scale and impact of Africa's debt burden. As President of the European Council, the Taoiseach took part in the G8 summit meeting, where he emphasised Ireland's view that the situation of the heavily indebted poor countries is one of the most pressing challenges to world economic and social development.

Recently, officials of my Department participated as members of the Irish delegation to the annual meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, where the debt issue was a central focus of discussion. While there, the officials met representatives of other donor countries and of the HIPC countries, as well as senior staff members of the financial institutions, including the head of the World Bank's HIPC unit.

Support for the cancellation of poor country debt, as advocated by Ireland since 2002, is growing both within the G8 countries and the wider international community. At the meeting in Washington, both UK and US proposals on poor country debt, that include debt cancellation, were discussed. While there was no agreement on how to progress these specific proposals at this time, I think their advocacy by these countries and the debate they generated around the issue of debt cancellation represent a considerable shift in the thinking of wealthier countries on the debt issue. The G8 countries have a crucial leadership role to play in the resolution of the debt problem of the poorest countries, including the pursuit of debt sustainability in the long term. Ireland will continue to attach the highest priority to this issue and will avail of every opportunity to reiterate our strong commitment to the pursuit of a lasting solution to the problem of developing country debt.