Bern marks ten years in Bretton Woods

Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin (right), welcomes World Bank President James Wolfensohn Keystone

Ten years after Switzerland voted to join the Bretton Wood institutions, Bern is hosting a key meeting aimed at improving the work of the World Bank.

This content was published on May 10, 2002 - 17:24

Bern laid out the red carpet for World Bank boss, James Wolfensohn, on Friday, as Swiss officials joined nearly 120 parliamentarians from 50 countries to discuss how the World Bank could better help poorer countries adapt to globalisation.

After talks with Wolfensohn, who's visiting Bern for the first time, the Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, said the Bank needed to become more efficient and to make sure it preserved its independence.

Couchepin said it was clear that the fight against poverty needed to be stepped up and made more effective. He cited the failure of International Monetary Fund - the other Bretton Woods institution - in Argentina, where the economy has almost collapsed.

Swiss want more influence

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, who also held talks with Wolfensohn, was more positive about the Bank’s record of tackling poverty.

“The fact that the World Bank gives loans as well as grants is very educational [for developing countries]. Grants aren’t always as effective as loans, which you have to pay back. And the loans are granted without interest, so its half a gift already,” he said.

However, Deiss criticised the Bank’s hierarchical structure, saying smaller countries like Switzerland had too little say in the Bank’s business.

“We want to increase democracy and participation in the World Bank,” he told swissinfo. “Large countries have too much influence compared to countries like Switzerland.”

For his part, Wolfensohn praised Switzerland for its “exemplary” role as a member of the World Bank, and toasted the tenth anniversary of the vote, which led to Switzerland joining the Bretton Woods Institutions - the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

He said Switzerland had become a leading World Bank partner in terms of funding and cooperating on development projects.

New agreements

During talks with Wolfensohn, Swiss officials signed two new agreements with the World Bank.

Under the first deal, Switzerland pledged SFr3.6 million ($2.1 million) to a World Bank pilot program designed to protect small-scale farmers in developing countries from commodity price fluctuations.

Wolfensohn also signed an agreement with Deiss to extend an existing partnership programme between the Swiss government's development agency and the World Bank Institute, to cooperate on themes such as decentralisation and sustainable development.

After the signing Deiss said Switzerland had shown great "commitment in reducing debt in the poorest countries".

Speaking for others

He added that Bern's role was especially important given that it represented seven countries in the World Bank voting group among them Poland, Yugoslavia and Uzbekistan.

"The fact that the countries in our working group are in transition and at different levels of development... boosts political exchange and [helps to determine] foreign policy," Deiss told swissinfo.

The ceremonies took place alongside the third-annual conference of the World's Bank's network of parliamentarians (PNOWB), also being held in Bern.

The PNOWB is a body of parliamentarians working with the World Bank to increase transparency in the Bank and to strengthen its collective accountability. This year's meeting is focusing on the impact of globalisation on developing countries and is seeking to find ways for the World Bank to help nations meet those challenges.

Among those attending the conference are Mike Moore, director general of the World Trade Organisation and the winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Physics, Georges Charpak.

swissinfo with agencies

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