Albion Monitor /News

U.S. Businesses Profit from U.N.

by Thalif Deen

U.N. important to American business

(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- The United States is making a killing on its investments in the United Nations, according to the head of the U.N.'s highest policy-making body.

Diogo Freitas do Amaral of Portugal, President of the 185 member General Assembly, said there is overwhelming evidence that members of the U.S. Congress who complain that Washington is not getting a fair return on its U.N. expenditures are dead wrong.

"It is simply not true to say that the U.S. pays too much to the United Nations and receives too little in return," he said.

U.S. companies continue to receive the largest share of U.N. contracts

To prove his claim, Freitas do Amaral pointed out that U.S. companies received 47 per cent of the $393 million in U.N. contracts last year, while Washington contributed just 25 per cent of the U.N.'s annual budget.

"And for every dollar the U.S. contributed in 1995 to the (New York-based) U.N. Development Program, American companies got back more than two dollars in UNDP procurement," he said.

"So you see, the critics are wrong. They are grossly misinformed," he said.

Last week, U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright told the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, "UNDP's expenditures in this country usually exceed the amount of our annual contributions."

She said that in 1995 "we contributed $113 million to UNDP's core budget, while UNDP spent more than $200 million in the U.S."

Albright added that while U.S. contributions have accounted for 10 to 12 per cent of UNDP's general resources, "our influence...has exceeded that."

At the third annual conference on U.N. procurement held last week, Ralph Cwerman of the U.N. Association of USA (UNA-USA) noted that U.S. companies continue to receive the largest share of U.N. contracts.

"The U.N. market is worth over $4 billion, and U.S. companies are obtaining nearly $1 billion in procurement contracts," he told representatives of mostly U.S. companies who participated in the conference.

"Those members of Congress who exaggerate the Organization's shortcomings and call for U.S. withdrawal are ignoring how important the United Nations is to U.S. business," he said.

"Simply put, U.N. procurement contracts means American jobs," said Cwerman, Vice President for Corporate Affairs at UNA-USA, a New York-based non-governmental organization with 175 chapters and more than 30,000 members throughout the United States.

Dispel several widespread "myths" about the United Nations, particularly claims that it is saddled with an expensive, bloated bureaucracy

Senator Jesse Helms, the Republican head of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is also a virulent critic of the United Nations, has said providing funds to the world body is "like pouring money into a rat hole."

As a result of Republican opposition to U.N. funding, Washington is currently the biggest single defaulter, falling $1.2 billion short of its U.N. budget obligation.

The fact that U.S. companies are grabbing all the lucrative U.N. contracts at a time when Washington is the largest funding delinquent has angered officials from the 15 member European Union, who have proposed that companies from countries that default in their payments should be barred from bidding for U.N. contracts.

Freitas pointed out that while Washington pays 25 per cent of the regular U.N. budget, the United States accounts for 27 per cent of the world's gross national product.

As such, he continued, the U.S. contribution to the United Nations is "lower, not higher, than it should be, in principle."

Currently, the U.S. share of the U.N.'s regular budget, some $1.3 billion for the day-to-day operations in New York and the field, is about $321 million a year, the equivalent of $1.24 per capita.

The General Assembly President's defense of the world body comes at a time when right wing Republicans in Congress are not only seeking sharp cuts in U.S. funding, but they also are demanding the elimination of U.N. agencies which they consider "redundant."

The U.N. bodies, which may be eliminated as part of a radical restructuring of the United Nations, include the U.N. Industrial Development Organization and five U.N. regional commissions based in Bangkok, Santiago, Addis Ababa, Amman, and Geneva.

Freitas also tried to dispel several widespread "myths" about the United Nations, particularly claims that it is saddled with an expensive, bloated bureaucracy.

"To deal with all the great problems of the world, we employ 4,800 people. The Swedish capital of Stockholm, to deal with local problems of a city of one million, has 60,000 municipal employees," he pointed out.

The $1.3 billion that the United Nations spends annually, he added, is about 4 per cent of New York City's budget and nearly one fourth of Tokyo's fire department budget.

The services the United Nations provide, Freitas said, are relatively low cost. For example, he said, the total cost of all U.N. peacekeeping operations in 1993 was about $3 billion, the equivalent of 1.1 per cent of the U.S. military budget and less than 0.3 per cent of total global military spending.

"So we can conclude, based on very strong evidence and beyond all reasonable doubt," he said, "that the United Nations is not guilty of excessive and unreasonable spending."

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Albion Monitor July 7, 1996 (

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