Robert Zoellick is the man nominated by Washington to take over the job of World Bank chairman following the resignation of Paul Wolfowitz. The American has a proven track record in world trade, having been a trade representative in the Bush administration. Aid for trade will be one of the leading challenges at the World Bank. He is currently on an informal visit taking in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia. Euronews caught up with him…
EuroNews: Welcome to EuroNews, how do you think the World Bank must be changed, especially after the experience of Mr Wolfowitz?
Robert Zoellick: Undoubtedly it’s an institution that has to evolve and change with the times. There’s tremendous expertise there, tremendous capabilities, but I think one of the things that is changing in the international environment is that you have a multiplicity of players. Europe is a very big player in development. So part of the challenge is how is this network drawn together: the Chinese are both a client, but also a contributor in terms of development in Africa- with some of their ex-im (export import) funding. So I think these are some of the challenges about how the World Bank will operate with other partners in an evolving environment and one other point I think in development is one has to approach this with a good degree of humility.
EuroNews: There’s a general impression that Africa is at the centre, at the core of your action as head of the World Bank. Why?
Robert Zoellick: Africa is an extremely diverse place; one topic that I’ve found particularly gaining a lot of attention was the role of sub-regional integration, and I learned this when I was a trade minister. Because you have markets that are relatively small compared to Europe or the United States and it’s important to be able to try to integrate them. And this is also a question of, if you have open markets, and for example you are able to sell your cotton, your coco or other goods, you still need the roads, you need the ports and many of the countries are inland countries, so they need access to the sea. So, one of the ministers said to me in Africa that he thinks the time of Afro-pessimism is past.
EuroNews: The emerging countries are criticising Europe and the United States for their subsidies to agriculture, do you think that they must be eliminated?
Robert Zoellick: I think you can get very significant reduction, in Europe, US, Canada, Japan and others. But one needs to keep in mind what’s called market access: opening markets as well. And this will be the challenge not only for agriculture, but right now I think the discussion in the manufacturing sector is important. And it’s very significant to recognize this is not just a question of the so-called north/south, it’s a south/south trade. So, if you are in Burkina Faso and you are producing cotton, and they are very dependent on cotton, you have one concern about, say, US cotton subsidies, but you are also going to need to sell your cotton to markets like India and China that are the larger textile producers.
EuroNews: But don’t you think that is up to the richer countries to lead by example?
Robert Zoellick: The challenge of the WTO is that you have 150 economies and you have to get them all to agree to a rather complex set of understandings and that means everybody has to be able to give something and explain what they’re going to get for their domestic publics.
EuroNews: The European Union is also criticizing other countries, third world countries, because of their perceived lower labour standards. Do you think that the World Bank can do something in order to increase the labour standards all over the world?
Robert Zoellick: The key is creating broad-base growth, and I emphasize broad-base growth, because it’s not just a question of whether you develop your commodities market, or your oil market, but you try to create the conditions for small business. This is where education is very important. Some of the millennium development goals talk about expanding basic primary education for both boys and girls. It’s hard to get good jobs if you don’t have the skills and training. So yes I believe that this is a very important goal in terms of overall development agenda and the World Bank agenda for improving people’s living conditions and that certainly includes working people.
EuroNews: Could the World Bank play a role?
Robert Zoellick: I think the basic point is that whether it’s in Africa or some of the Caribbean countries, or Latin American countries, one looks to have partners in those countries. I mean, one looks first to the people that live in the country, understand the country and try to develop a strategy, to be able to deal with the different aspects, and it varies. As I’ve said: some countries are more in a ‘take-off’ phase. In Latin America, where I’m going after Europe, we had the problem of indigenous people who have been shut out of the economy for many, many years and as the political system has opened up more, those people want to play a larger role. And so it’s a question of also helping them with everything from property rights to rule of law, to micro-financing. So there’s a host of tools. The question is how you connect them.
EuroNews: You were a prominent figure of the Bush administration; do you think that there is in some way a major political change in the foreign policy of this administration?
Robert Zoellick: I don’t believe terrorism is caused by poverty. If you look at Osama Bin Laden’s financial records, it’s hard to make that case. But it is certainly the situation where societies fragment, where people lose the sense of hope, where the future seems bleak, those become the breeding grounds of trouble. My purpose is to try to work, of course with the USA, but with Europe, with China, with others, and to try to help those that want to help themselves, that want to build something, that want to create. So, whether it’s the Islamic world, whether it’s Africa, whether it’s Asia, you know there are huge challenges. If you spend some time out in the field, even a country like China, when you go to Shanghai, to Beijing and see the big development; then you go to the country-side there’s still a lot of poor people that need, they need a helping hand.