THE rich countries are committed to helping the poor ones. Ever since they committed to give a certain percentage of their gross national product (GNP) as aid to poor countries in the seventies, the rich countries embraced this commitment in a formal way to aid the world's poor. But that commitment was never kept to the extent as was expected or needed. While only a few rich countries met their pledge of disbursing their aid resources in fair proportion, most of the other including the richest ones failed to do so. Under the current millennium development goals (MDGs) of the United Nations, the governments of the poor countries have also taken on commitments to reduce poverty within their territories under a time-frame. But the rich countries also have obligations under the MDGs to help the poor or the poorest countries to attain their MDG goals through greater aid disbursement and trade facilitation.
However, the recent assessment of a Washington-based think-tank, Centre for Global Development (CGD), has come up with findings which indicate that the rich countries are rather letting the poor countries down in respect of helping them to meet their MDG goals. Realisation of such goals depends substantially on higher receipt of aid and better trading opportunities with the rich countries. The study conducted on the policies of 21 rich countries shows that while some of them specially the Nordic countries have improved their policies in relation to the poor countries, at least seven of them which include the richest such as the United States and Japan, have been slipping in making progress towards their commitments. These seven countries are seen to be moving backwards in helping the poor countries in areas of aid, trade, security, environment, migration, investment and technological assistance.
The CGD's report needs to be taken seriously in the capitals of the rich countries specially in those seven countries seen to be defaulting in keeping their commitments. Particularly, the US and Japan need to be particularly sensitised by such assessments of their role in relation to the world's poor. The United States has the world's most powerful economy followed by that of Japan. Whatever these countries do generously in helping the poor countries can count for a great deal more than the combined assistance extended by even half a dozen of the smaller rich economies. Therefore, it is important for them to make a stronger effort to keep fully their commitments to the world's poor.
It should be conspicuous that some of the least developed countries (LDCs) including Bangladesh, are keen to have improved access for trade to the markets of the USA and Japan. They are stressing on this aspect more than aid, perhaps. The LDCs were promised duty-free and quota-free access to the markets of the developed countries at the last Hong Kong meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It was only left to be determined what things would be reserved in the three per cent sensitive list to be kept outside the duty-free and quota-free concessions. But the Doha round of talks of the WTO seems to have become suspended which would delay the determination of the items to be included in this three per cent sensitive list. Bangladesh and other LDCs are understandably eager that the items in this exclusion list must not include their main export products. For example, Bangladesh's singular aim is not to have its exportable ready-made garments included in the exclusion list. There is no need for talks between the LDCs and the rich countries in these respects to de delayed until full resumption of the WTO talks. The discussions and decisions in these matters can be attempted immediately. Bangladesh has proposed the same at the WTO. The proposal merits a prompt and positive consideration by the rich countries specially in view of their obligation to fully meet their commitments to the world's poor.