If you think agreeing goals on health and education for after 2015 is hard, just wait until the serious conversations start on the ‘global partnership’ that underpins them. All of the most difficult global issues are there: how to sort out the global trading system (something the WTO is having another go at in Bali in December), or how to tackle migration – an issue so contentious that there isn’t even a global negotiations process on it. And of course the ever-thorny question of finance – who pays for the implementation of new goals, and how.
It’s not surprising that governments are wary of starting this conversation in earnest. The UN’s High-Level Panel report was heavy on the detail of what outcomes a post-2015 agreement might aim for, but light on what different countries might have to do in order to get there. The interim report of the Open Working Group also skirts around the issues, partly because they haven’t got to that part of the agenda yet, although a taster of future arguments is contained in a paragraph on the benefits and costs of migration. The Committee on Sustainable Development Financing, which started work earlier this year, will be the site of some of these debates, but its remit is restricted to finance; the aspirations for a future global ‘deal’ underpinning new goals go way beyond that.
There’s some signalling going on, if you read between the lines. ‘Universality’ – an innocuous term that it’s hard to disagree with, is often (though, confusingly, not always) a code for tougher targets on global issues like trade or finance. The G77 and others have made very clear that their interests haven’t changed – in the post-2015 negotiations, as elsewhere; they will want to see progress on trade, migration, and the other issues that are part of their core national interests.
Sooner or later countries are going to have to get to these hard issues, if there is to be a deal. This may not happen until the intergovernmental negotiations start towards the end of 2014. But when they do, they will have to balance the political difficulty of getting agreement in many areas with the different potential gains if deals are made, to decide what the priorities should be and where political firepower should be concentrated.
A new report from ODI will help. We’ve pulled together estimates of the scale and distribution of possible gains from different global reforms. Within the limits of what we know, the aim is to inject a bit of empirical reality into the political nightmare that negotiations on a global partnership might become. We’ve left out the debate on aid and concessional finance, since that has its own dynamic and is well covered elsewhere, and have left the question of climate change and post-2015 for a forthcoming briefing. Here, the focus is on other global reforms that are, or could be, on the agenda for post-2015. There are huge caveats about comparability and reliability of the different estimates, but a general picture emerges from the table below. In 2009, the value of development assistance globally was around $173 billion. The table below, drawn from the report, shows that some of these reforms could involve a doubling, at least, of the international resources available for development.
Estimates of scale and distribution of benefits from different reforms
The big-ticket reforms are clearly migration, on which there is very little global consensus, and trade mispricing and illicit capital flows, on which there is progress, though slow. New taxes and Special Drawing Rights could, in theory, raise huge amounts of money, but the administrative and political issues in first raising the money and then using it for development purposes might also be formidable.
The numbers, together with the politics, suggest that as well as agreeing an effective deal on dedicated development finance, the priorities for negotiators in agreeing the global partnership deal that underpins a post-2015 agreement should be twofold. Firstly, to find some wording that opens the door on migration, in hopes of a more favourable political climate at some future point; secondly, to capture and embed the recent progress on tax evasion and illicit flows in the G8 and G20.
The main determinant of a future global partnership will be a political deal, and not the numbers. But numbers can help remind those in charge of the politics what’s really important, and for whom.