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President of the World Bank James Wolfensohn
President of the World Bank James Wolfensohn
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: JAMES WOLFENSOHN, President of the World Bank NOVEMBER 11TH, 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: And who better to follow up with than the man himself, the president of the world bank - the president of the world, and then the word bank was on the next line, so president of the world James, James Wolfensohn, Jim, welcome. An instant reaction, because you're in the unique position to comment on what's happening there in Doha and, and what Patricia Hewitt was saying, and what they ought to be trying to achieve and whether you think they'll achieve it.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Well I think that she's absolutely right, David, that if we're trying to address the question of development and poverty round the world, you have to link trade with overseas assistance and all the actions that we're taking to try and support and help these countries. So I think she's absolutely at the key point in trying to ensure that we have open markets for the developing countries, as she said.

DAVID FROST: And indeed in terms of open markets, some of the rich countries are not that great at opening their markets, are they? Because - and a lot of these third world countries produce food, food which could make all the difference if they could sell it. We've got to open our markets more haven't we?

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Well indeed we do, David. We're giving 50 billion a year in aid to all the developing countries around the world, and we're giving 350 billion a year in subsidies to agricultural producers. So that gives you a sense of where the politics is and where the power is. So you're right that this is a very, very difficult question.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of what's happened since the tragedy of September 11, we spoke on the weekend just following that -

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: We did yes.

DAVID FROST: - and the Wall Street, Wall Street was going to open the next day - I suppose you would say, looking at the world markets and the stock markets, they've probably done a bit better than you would have feared.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: They have but I think the underlying question about the growth in the economy is such that the effect of September the 11th is it's made everyone less confident and the projections that are coming out now would indicate that for the year 2002 the hopes for the revival in the global economy are certainly diminished.

DAVID FROST: Diminished. But at the moment, you wouldn't say we're in global recession here?

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: I wouldn't say we're in a recession but I think we're projecting for next year growth of maybe one per cent, or maybe even a little less. Much depends on what happens in Afghanistan and what happens with the whole issue of peace and security around the world. It gets down, in the end, to a question of confidence. People are not confident, they don't spend money. They don't spend money, there's no investment. And so this is a perfect example of how politics and economics are totally intertwined.

DAVID FROST: It's complicated, isn't it, because looking at what's happened in the world, you'd almost be relieved to hear that you're saying about the World Bank that in the year 2002 there will be some growth at all. I mean, and then only one per cent, but at least that's some growth. But I mean it, the bad news is it's less growth than there was I suppose, but it's better than it might be though, isn't it?

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Well that's true but of course you have areas in the world like Japan which are in recession, which is an important part of the economy, and in the developing world you have the poorest countries being very badly hit. Commodity prices have come down, there is less access to trade, and so for the poorest people, the three billion - half the world that lives on under two dollars a day - it is a serious issue.

DAVID FROST: And what, with something as globally great as that and then some on one dollar a day and so on, I mean what can we do about that? I mean it's, it's too big a problem almost to cope with, isn't it?

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Well I think David the critical thing to me in September the 11th was that we have typically spoken of the developed world and the developing world, for years we have been saying that poverty in one place is poverty everywhere and that with globalisation things that happen in distant parts of the world really affect us. What happened on September the 11th was that any thought that there was a separation between these two worlds is gone. The collapse of the World Trade Centre was the collapse of this imaginary wall. And so what we can do, and must do, is to devote much more of our time and effort to thinking about development in the developing world because that's an issue of peace which affects us directly.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of people who worried that this would make America more isolationist, that's the reverse seems to me to be true. They're this week, I mean they're more involved in the world than they ever were.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Well David if you are in New York, all of a sudden Afghanistan was in Wall Street. You cannot now say that you can be isolationist. That's been true for many reasons; for trade, for finance, environment, Aids, health, all those things - now it's terror, it's violence, and in the end that gets round to the question of what sort of equity there is in the world. And I think therefore the United States and Europe, as they have already shown, must be much more concerned with the global issues.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the subject - bringing it round to the subject that we've been talking about in different ways and from different angles throughout the programme. We heard people talking about the reconstruction of Afghanistan when the Taliban fall - President Bush talked about that and so on, you're having a conference about it in Islamabad and so on - what, how do you put into practice this idea of right, okay, the Taliban out and now we're going to repair the damage that always existed in the Afghan economy, plus the damage that has been caused by this war. I mean how do we go about that? How do you go about reconstructing Afghanistan?

JAMES WOLFENSOHN Well in the case of Afghanistan, the first thing you have to do is to have a political settlement, so that you have Afghans to deal with. There is no way that that can be run from Whitehall or from Washington. The most important thing is that there should be a representative government in Afghanistan that we can then support. And that's in fact what will be doing at the World Bank, working with the UN, to try and bring resources that the Afghans want. They don't want a society exactly like the UK or the United States. We must get with them a system, help them train their people, help them deal with issues of health and education -

DAVID FROST: Yes, because in areas like that, their infant mortality rate even before this was enormous.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Absolutely enormous. I mean you're dealing with a place where there's hardly any health care, where education, as you know, of women has been banned - in fact it's a crime, people that, under the Taliban, that teach girls get killed. So we're, we're acting there to try and help the Afghans themselves, which are very intelligent people, to try and break free of these excesses and reconstruct for themselves a society that gives people hope. And that means money, that means people, it means concern. But I'd say also that it's not just Afghanistan, we have to think much more broadly in terms of the whole of the developing world.

DAVID FROST: And it needs time, as well, because it's not going to happen overnight.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: This is not an overnight issue. This is a long running issue.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed Jim.

BREAK FOR NEWS

DAVID FROST: There are fires all over the world, of course, at any one moment, and we read what can be done, Argentina, it seems to be on the verge of going into default.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: It's a very difficult question David, the Argentines are looking to exchange securities for their foreign debt to try and be able to get on top of this situation and it is for us one of the most concerning issues going on in the world today. It affects the whole of the markets for developing countries.

DAVID FROST: Jim, thank you very much.


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