Big UN conference on the global crisis is postponed – why?

May 28, 2009

     By Duncan Green     

At the last minute, the UN has postponed its ‘Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development’ from 1-3 June to 24-26th June, still in New York. This will allow it time to sort out the draft conclusions and try and convince a respectable number of world leaders to attend.

The process for arriving at an ‘outcome document’ for the meeting has been, to put it kindly, chaotic. First Joseph Stiglitz’ Commission of Experts released their recommendations in March (see my post here). The second, 111 page draft is now up on the UN website (haven’t had a chance to read that yet). Then Father Miguel d’Escoto, the President of the General Assembly (and former Sandinista Foreign Minister), produced a draft outcome document that went so much further than Stiglitz (e.g. it proposed establishing 8 new global institutions – enough to make any international negotiator blanch) that it caused uproar.

Now there’s a second, much watered-down draft, half the length of the first draft, vague on detail and sidelining many of Stiglitz’ proposals. Officially, it has been jointly drafted by Fr d’Escoto and the conference ‘co-facilitators’, the Netherlands and St Vincent and the Grenadines, but it bears little resemblance to d’Escoto’s earlier draft.

The overall tone shifts away from Stiglitz’ repudiation of the IMF and his call for it to be replaced by the UN (always likely to be an uphill task given the central role already handed to the IMF by the G20, backed up with an extra $500bn). Instead, the new draft seeks to secure a louder and more coordinated UN voice in the response to the crisis, along with improved coordination between the UN and the IFIs. Given where we are right now, and the need for rapid action to ease the development impact of the crisis, that probably makes sense.

The only big idea from the Stiglitz Commission to survive more or less unscathed into the new draft text is the proposal for a new ‘Global Economic Council’, which would ‘provide coordination and oversight of concerted responses in addressing the broader range of global challenges’. i.e. an economic version of the UN Security Council which, if fully implemented, would give the UN a much greater role in global economic governance.

Otherwise, Stiglitz’s proposals for a new Global Reserve Fund, Global Financial Regulatory Authority and a Competition Authority are kicked into the long grass of seven proposed ‘ministerial and technical level working groups’. Father d’Escoto’s Global Public Goods Authorities and Global Tax Authority disappear without trace.

Fr d’Escoto has called on UN members to finalise the text by 15 June – let’s see if it’s watered down further or toughened up by then (don’t hold your breath – negotiations don’t usually produce a stronger text!)

All the drafts for the meeting can be found here.

Update 9 June: A Reuters piece on the blame game surrounding the summit