CDR and the American Enterprise Institute host conference on economic growth and the Sustainable Development Goals

On October 20, 2015, The Consensus for Development Reform (CDR) and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) co-hosted a half-day conference exploring the essential role of private sector-led economic growth in sustainable development. The event included the participation of Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as noted development experts and U.S. development agency leadership. The forum explored the critical and necessary role of economic opportunity and growth to achieving and sustaining the UN’s newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The participants discussed how the United States’ development strategy should better reflect private sector economic growth’s role, seeking to reduce barriers to growth and to expand economic opportunity so countries can meet their goals and sustain their progress.

Leading off the conference, Senator Corker outlined several of his top legislative priorities in the area of economic growth and development, including his Electrify Africa Act and his newly introduced Global Gateways Trade Capacity Act, which seeks to use our assistance to identify and eliminate barriers to trade and investment. Corker said, "The real drive should be toward spending dollars to build the economic capacity within the countries themselves and harnessing the tremendous power of the private sector… This is a place where I think together we as Americans can make a lot of difference in peoples' lives, and we're very committed to that."

The first expert panel provided the intellectual and policy basis for a growth and opportunity-based development strategy, examining how and why economic growth is an essential tool to achieve and sustain development goals. The panel included Rob Mosbacher, former President and CEO of OPIC and CDR co-chairman; Juan José Daboub, former Minister of Finance of El Salvador and former managing director of the World Bank; Nancy Lee, Deputy CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation; and AEI’s James Pethokoukis as moderator. Panelists discussed how even a casual glance at the SDG’s 17 goals and 169 targets makes it clear that they cannot be achieved through Official Development Assistance alone. Rather, such development must be fueled by the kind of broad-based economic growth that has brought one billion people out of poverty since 1980.

The second panel provided a critical examination of why fostering economic growth must be a central goal of the United States’ development strategy. The panel included Mark Green, president of the International Republican Institute and CDR co-chairman; Lee Zak, Director of the U.S. Trade Development Agency; John Norris from the Center for American Progress; and Mike Gerson of the ONE Campaign and CDR as moderator. Panelists said that our development strategy must be built around the reality that 80 percent of capital flows from the U.S. to the developing world are now private capital, and that foreign assistance has become an increasingly small percentage of the overall economic activity in developing countries – facts that require our development strategy to be more than simply an aid strategy. Panelists acknowledged the ability of innovative U.S. development assistance to drive change. The panel discussed the successes of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Millennium Challenge Corporation in particular, describing how innovations from these programs should be applied to a robust economic growth strategy. Panelists described the many ways the United States has a unique ability to help drive the broad-based economic growth necessary for development and how we must harness and effectively employ all the tools that can drive economic growth – of which many of the most important are outside of government.

Chairman Royce closed the event, offering some clear observations on what is at stake and the challenge to the United States’ development agenda, noting that economic growth has saved lives and lifted billions out of poverty. He emphasized especially the critical importance of good governance as an essential element for realizing the SDGs, saying, “Achieving [the SDGs] cannot happen absent …market-based economic growth. Growth cannot be reached in countries that do not embrace good governance through political and economic reforms.”


Economic growth: The only path to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?