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U.N. Forum in Mexico to Focus on Poverty, Free Trade

Conference: Bush, Fox will meet on bilateral issues. Protests are expected during week.

March 18, 2002|CHRIS KRAUL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — Devising a kinder, gentler brand of globalization tops the agenda for a weeklong U.N. forum on development opening today in the northeastern city of Monterrey, where more than 50 world leaders will try to promote a "fully inclusive and equitable global economic system."

The meeting's host, Mexican President Vicente Fox, and President Bush will hold their own summit Friday at which Fox plans to press for immigration reform, border aid and other concessions. Fox's campaign to legalize 3 million illegal migrants in the United States was interrupted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The U.N. International Conference on Financing for Development will run through Friday with the goal of producing a game plan for reducing poverty and spreading the benefits of free trade more evenly around the world.

The conference comes amid growing opposition to free trade and globalization in many quarters. Critics say a decade of open markets and liberalized investment rules has not eased poverty and social inequality in developing countries and has only made rich nations richer.

In a Sunday column in the Mexico City newspaper Reforma, Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes likened the benefits of globalization to Mt. Everest, calling them a summit that many poor countries cannot even see, much less attain.

This disenchantment was demonstrated by weekend marches at the European Union's meeting in Barcelona, Spain. Tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into the streets, a turnout that was typical of what seems to occur now wherever world leaders convene.

Protests are expected this week in Monterrey, although Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda said in a briefing with reporters last week that he hopes the demonstrations will be "nonconfrontational."

The United Nations and Mexico sought to accommodate globalization foes by permitting an alternative four-day summit for nongovernmental organizations that closed Sunday in Monterrey. However, a similar move by Canada at the Quebec City hemispheric summit in April did not discourage subsequent rioting.

Among the proposals put forth by globalization foes are that developed nations forgive billions in debts owed by the world's poorest countries and that rich nations dedicate a portion of their economic output to helping the neediest ones.

Although no broad-based development fund is likely to come out of the forum, wealthier nations have begun to get the message. Bush recently pledged to give $5 billion in additional foreign aid to poor countries over the next several years.

In January, U.N. members approved a document recognizing the need for a "new partnership between developed and developing nations" to further economic growth. How that proposal--to be ratified by the world leaders Friday--will be put in practice remains to be seen.

The document also imposes demands on poorer countries to ensure democracy, the rule of law, and human and women's rights.

Castaneda said the Sept. 11 attacks created a new impetus for wealthy nations to do more to reduce poverty because of the "link between poverty and exclusion and fanaticism, the pond in which the [terrorist] fish swim."

After an executive session of world leaders Friday, Fox and Bush are scheduled to huddle for three hours discussing a range of goals each has. Mexico wants water for the Rio Grande Valley, U.S. immigration reform and help in financing border infrastructure projects. The United States wants more Mexican cooperation and data sharing in security efforts.

Fox's bargaining position was strengthened by the capture March 9 in Puebla, outside Mexico City, of perhaps the world's most wanted drug trafficker, Benjamin Arellano Felix, Castaneda said. The arrest was proof that Mexico is living up to its promise to the United States to get tough with drug mobsters, he said.

Chances are good that Mexico and the United States will unveil a border security agreement after the summit. Details of the pact were worked on during a visit to Mexico this month by Homeland Security Director Thomas J. Ridge.

The security agreement may include high-tech measures to speed the flow of cross-border visitors and commerce, which has been slowed by the added security and tougher inspections since Sept. 11.

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