Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the current per capita income benchmark to measure development, and the graduation that follows from it, is deeply flawed and must be rolled back to provide middle-income countries essential access to development finance.
He was making a statement during the opening plenary session of a high-level meeting on middle-income countries in the Trusteeship Council Chamber at UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday.
He said in his statement that “My country is one of the smallest and most vulnerable in the world. Yet, due to the biased conception of what represents development, in particular the per capita income criterion, my small island state is excluded from access to concessional loans and grants ”.
“Other middle-income countries are facing the same situation. The absurdity of the situation is that our peoples are graduated or, more precisely, punished for two things: first, their adherence to political and human rights, which have rewarded their workers with better incomes; and second, the opening of our economy to foreign investment.
“Openness to foreign investment translates into disproportionately high repatriation of profits and higher wages to a small group of expatriates, distorting true per capita income.
“The time has passed to reject this blatantly false basis of judging a country’s wealth or level of development.
“If it continues to persist, guiding the way middle-income countries are treated, we will see a steady decline in economic fortunes resulting in social dislocation and political upheaval.”
“Not only will we fail to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, but the progress we have made will be reversed. In fact, this trend has already started. I remind this assembly that the important issues facing many middle-income countries, especially small island developing States, are generated or influenced from outside.
“Our countries did not create climate change and global warming. Yet we are their greatest victims, and facing them, just to survive, depletes our treasures; depriving us of the means to build infrastructure, improve education and health care, reduce poverty and apply technology that would elevate us to a higher level of development.
“Likewise, we are not creating cancerous global financial crises, which infect the global community, especially our small open economies. “
Yet we are compelled to face the evil effect of these crises, and to overcome them, as best we can, through our own ingenuity.
And, it is significant that, as we seek to diversify our economies which are limited by dependence on a narrow range of productive activities, the rich nations of the world continually block our efforts to compete with them.
Thus, in taxation and financial services, a handful of rich countries unilaterally control and enforce arbitrary rules that suit them, instead of allowing universal dialogue and decision-making within the United Nations.
Development cannot be measured by income per capita alone. Fair trade, access to finance, anti-competitive rules, size, debt burden and vulnerability, including the destructive effects of climate change – all of these should be factors in a country’s development measures.
Add to all this the serious threats posed to our countries’ continued participation in global financial and trading systems, by removing or restricting correspondent banking services to several of our countries, based on the mislabeling that we are tax havens and therefore ‘high risk’.
Madam President, I know the picture I have painted is quite bleak, but as a head of government sincerely seeking ways to develop my country and my people, there is a growing sense of frustration that with every scale we take. climbs is deleted.
However, we cannot and will not give up. We are part of humanity; we are the joint heirs of our unique planet; and we intend to persist, perform and persevere by being creative, by working hard, by standing up whenever we are knocked down.
With a unified vision for global development, the international community can help close the development gap in middle-income countries in several ways.
First, he should agree that the current benchmark of per capita income for measuring development and the resulting graduation is deeply flawed and must be reversed to provide middle-income countries with much needed access to development finance.
Second, a real methodology needs to be urgently formulated to determine vulnerabilities and it needs to include size, susceptibility to climate change, poor terms of trade, remoteness, high cost of transactions, narrow base of productive activities and high debt.
Third, concessional financing must be provided to curb the reversals already underway and to facilitate our efforts to continue the development of our nations.
Fourth, we recommend a global partnership on debt relief. There has to be a willingness to write off or reduce debt, especially on the part of the Paris Club, especially since in many cases decades of compound interest are making the debt bigger. Servicing this debt, in a context of frequent disasters, persistent diseconomies and external shocks, restricts spending on education, training, new technologies and improved competitiveness, ultimately resulting in underdevelopment.
Fifth, climate debt swaps to reduce the debt burden by accelerating their transition to green energy, to reduce their carbon footprint, improve energy security, climate and economic resilience.
Sixth, encourage rich countries to spend less on artillery to support senseless wars and unnecessary conflicts; whose savings should be used to advance human development at home and abroad.
And finally, climate change must be recognized as the demon that it is. The world’s worst polluters must admit that it was they who unleashed this demon, and it is they who must commit to containing and stopping it; not just in word but in deed, including providing the necessary funding for adaptation and mitigation.
Unless such a commitment becomes a binding command and climate change is halted, no resilience building will help.
Small island states, like mine, will be among the first victims; but we will not be the last. It is therefore in the best interests of humanity that we work collectively to build a transformational model of cooperation for sustainable global development.
Within the only world body – this United Nations – the conscience of the world and its collective conscience must act, and act now.
Let us renew our commitment at this conference to building an inclusive and sustainable global financial and trade architecture that ensures prosperity for all.