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The global development agenda in 2007

Written by Simon Maxwell


(This piece was first published in www.openDemocracy.net)

2007 will be a difficult year in international development, for five reasons.

First, there will be many reminders that poverty remains ubiquitous, that conflict destroys lives and livelihoods, and that environmental pressures are increasing. Though Africa will continue to grow, in aggregate faster than developed countries, it will become clear just how big a share of this is the result of high prices for oil and other commodities - and how little the poor benefit from enclave-based growth. The "resource curse" will be much discussed. Conflict will continue to plague the Horn of Africa, with Somalia adding to the woes of Darfur. 2007 will see more than its fair share of natural calamities.

Second, the developed-country response will be seen to have been less generous than was promised in 2005, the so-called year of international development. Matters will come to a head at the Germany-led G8 summit on 6-8 June 2007, when it will become apparent that Germany and Italy, among others, are failing to meet their promises - this despite chancellor Angela Merkel putting Africa high on the G8 agenda.

Aid reached $100 million in 2005, but a big part of the increase was debt relief to Iraq, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and new money went mainly to Iraq and Afghanistan. Aid will have fallen in 2006, which will cause rancour at the G8. In order to distract attention, there will be a great deal of talk about improving aid quality.

Third, attempts to revive the Doha trade round will run into the buffers until at least 2009, as the expiry of the United States fast-track opportunity in the summer of 2007 means that any deal becomes embroiled in Congress and in the politics of the 2008 presidential election. Attention will shift instead to the European Union's economic partnership agreements (EPAs), potentially a mixed blessing for developing countries.

Fourth, 2007 will be a time of political transitions, with a new United Nations secretary-general (Ban Ki-moon) in New York, new leadership in the United Kingdom and France, and likely stasis in the US, pending the presidential election. There will also be difficult elections in countries as far apart as Kenya, Pakistan and Argentina. It will take time to build new relationships, and the alliances necessary to move forward, for example on UN reform (ODI resources on UN reform).

In the UK, Gordon Brown can be expected to produce the odd surprise for international development during his 100-day honeymoon and renewal process - perhaps an enlarged role for the department of international development (DFID) in brokering global deals on trade or climate change.

Fifth, and perhaps with the most interesting long-term impact, the debate about international development will begin to extend the poverty-reduction paradigm that has dominated for the last decade, built on the foundation of the Millennium Development Goals. Attention will begin to focus on glaring and growing inequality between rich and poor, in a conversation dominated by ideas of social justice rather than the eradication of absolute poverty. The radical tide which originated in Latin America will begin to wash against other shores.

Governments, political parties and social movements will be talking less about growth and basic needs, more about empowerment, social cohesion, redistributive justice and social protection. With the possible exception of Hugo Chávez's Venezuela, most radical Latin American regimes of this decade have been cautious reformers. President Lula of Brazil is one of those who can be expected to push out the boat in 2007.