UN General Assembly, USAID vs. China, and an aid donors' report card: This week in development

Students pose for a photo at the #UNGA sign, used to promote the United Nations General Assembly debate at the Visitors Plaza in New York. Photo by: Kim Haughton / U.N.

The calm before the Global Goals Week storm, a development donor rivalry brews in Europe, and U.S. aid leaders send a message to China. This week in development:

The 73rd United Nations General Assembly is officially underway, while development leaders prepare to descend on New York City for Global Goals Week. Inside the U.N. headquarters, global health advocates will closely watch discussions around two global threats that have struggled to find traction on the international agenda — noncommunicable diseases and tuberculosis — both of which will be the subject of high-level meetings next week. Tuesday will see the opening of the general debate, where all eyes will be on President Donald Trump when he delivers his second address to the U.N. chamber. The official U.N. proceedings will be surrounded by side events that have grown into their own occasion. Bill and Melinda Gates will push human capital” investments at their Goalkeepers summit and Michael Bloomberg will convene world leaders around technology, trade, and finance at his Global Business Forum, before turning over the stage to the One Planet Summit on climate change, hosted by France.

Devex will be battling traffic and security lines across the city to bring you the latest news and analysis on U.N. reform, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Trump administration’s message to the world, and many, many more headlines. To help you navigate the hectic week, here are five big stories to watch and here’s a rundown of the events happening in New York. Sign up for our UNGA daily briefing and find more coverage here.

Sweden is the donor country most committed to development, trading places with Denmark, which ranked second in this year’s Commitment to Development Index. Paradoxically, the United States, which spends the most money overall, came in at 23rd, scoring dead last on aid quantity and quality. Germany came in third, improving by two places over its 2017 ranking, thanks to a strong trade and migration agenda. The index takes a comprehensive view of countries’ foreign aid spending, as well as their overall policy approach on issues that affect global development — trade, security, and migration, for example. The U.S. devotes less than 0.2 percent of its gross national income to development assistance, falling well short of the 0.7 percent benchmark that the international community has endorsed — and which few countries have met. “Things could get worse,” Ian Mitchell, director of the CDI, told Devex. “The Paris Agreement [on climate change] is included in the measure, and if they formally withdraw from that, their score will drop further.”

The European Commission and European Investment Bank are sparring over their competing visions for the European Union’s approach to external investment under the 2021-2027 budget. Both want to run a “platform” made up of European development actors, such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the French development agency Agence Française de Développement, and the German KfW Group. For the commission, it’s a chance to better guide the use of private sector guarantees, designed to boost investment in risky countries. But EIB argues its role as the EU bank and its track record supporting projects outside the bloc mean it should take the lead. “The EIB is saying … ‘we are the EU bank, we want to run the show,’” a senior commission official, authorized to speak anonymously, told Devex. The commission laid out its position in a recent policy paper, while the EIB told us to expect more proposals from its side next month.

The Trump administration’s development leaders are putting China on notice — and sending a message to the developing countries who choose to accept Chinese development assistance. “If you decide to work with China, it is bad,” said Jim Richardson, coordinator of USAID’s Transformation Task Team, at a stakeholder meeting last week. USAID’s leaders plan to be more vocal in calling out what they consider to be development investments that lack transparency and burden countries with unsustainable levels of debt, Richardson said. That message will no doubt appeal to a White House that has otherwise questioned the value of foreign assistance spending. The heightened rhetoric marks a sharp turn from USAID’s position under the Obama administration three years ago, when the agency signed a memorandum of understanding with China to seek out areas of cooperation on global development around the world. Even some former Obama advisors admitted that the geopolitical winds have shifted since then, with China becoming a more assertive financier.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.