Table of Contents

  • The protracted global economic crisis has begun to take its toll on international development cooperation. Last year, official development assistance (ODA) fell for the first time in many years, while trade protectionist measures increased. There has also been too little progress in fulfilling other key aspects of the global partnership for development. While the poorest nations have received generous debt relief over the past decade, many still face unsustainable obligations. Essential medicines remain too expensive and difficult to obtain in many developing countries. And despite recent progress, the vast digital divide between developed and developing countries persists, in part because access to the Internet and mobile phones remains far too costly for low-income households.

  • In 2007, the Secretary-General of the United Nations invited the organizations of the multilateral system to form an inter-secretariat task force to better monitor implementation of the commitments commonly summarized as “Goal 8” of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Since its formation, the MDG Gap Task Force has been measuring progress in implementing commitments to strengthen official development assistance (ODA), to improve access of developing- country exports to international markets, to enhance cooperation to achieve and maintain sustainable external debt situations in developing countries, and to deepen developing-country access to affordable essential medicines and new technologies. In addition to reporting the progress in these areas, since its first report in 2008, the Task Force has identified the gaps between commitment and delivery and has called upon the international community to fill those gaps.

  • Five years ago, the Secretary-General of the United Nations invited the organizations of the multilateral system to form an inter-secretariat task force to better monitor implementation of the commitments commonly summarized as “Goal 8” of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The resulting MDG Gap Task Force produced its first report in 2008, which measured progress in implementing commitments to strengthen official development assistance (ODA), to improve access of developing-country exports to international markets, to enhance cooperation to achieve and maintain sustainable external debt situations in developing countries, and to deepen developing-country access to affordable essential medicines and new technologies. In addition to giving an account of the progress in these areas, the first report identified the gaps between commitment and delivery and called upon the international community to fill those gaps.

  • In 2011, as fiscal austerity took its toll on the economies of developed countries in general, its specific impact on official development assistance (ODA) was also felt. Excluding debt relief, the total volume of ODA fell in real terms for the first time in more than a decade, widening the delivery gap against outstanding commitments. At the same time, the international donor community reinforced previous commitments to increase ODA, and high-level international meetings led to new pledges to improve aid effectiveness. However, progress in meeting the targets previously set for making aid more effective has been disappointing. This is the context in which the international community finds itself in 2012: facing the clear and mounting challenge of how to turn ODA rhetoric into reality.

  • The ability of developing countries to expand export earnings—something so critical to accelerating the economic growth needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—depends upon the growth of world trade, open access to markets and the ability to diversify. Owing to the continuing effects of the global financial and economic crisis, world trade is still growing at a rate slower than that of the pre-crisis period. Moreover, as the overall world economic outlook darkened in 2012, estimates of the growth of world trade have been repeatedly revised downwards.

  • Dramatic developments have taken place over the past year in the world of sovereign debt. The fact that the key debt crises have occurred in European developed economies only emphasizes that the exigencies of public finance and the political difficulties of tackling a debt overhang effectively are universal. Lessons from the European crisis reiterate lessons from emerging market debt crises, as well as from the entire history of sovereign debt crises. One of those recent lessons from Europe is that ad hoc political processes for debt workouts do not necessarily lead to timely, effective or fair burden-sharing after debt crises occur.

  • Despite a greater focus on health issues by the international community, little progress can be seen in access to essential medicines. New data show that essential medicines remain unaffordable and insufficiently accessible to the poor. Although international initiatives supported by public and private funding will continue to help increase the supply of affordable medicines and improve their distribution, other developments will also help narrow the gap, if conditions allow. Local production of medicines in developing countries, for example, can reduce production costs, but will depend on enhancing the capacity of these countries and facilitating the use of flexibilities in international trade regulations. Thus, the augmented participation of developing countries will be critical in strengthening the global partnership to increase access to essential medicines.

  • Access to new technologies, especially in the area of information and communication technologies (ICT), continues to expand at an accelerated pace in developing countries. The spread of ICT also continues in developed countries and, as a result, the digital divide remains wide. The growing use of ICT is supporting broader development processes, including the improved accessibility and effectiveness of social services. While the cost of ICT continues to fall, such services remain much less affordable to citizens of developing countries. Thus, further reduction in the cost of ICT services may help accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).