In the new international development strategy adopted by the General Assembly for the third UN Development Decade, beginning on 1 January 1981, governments pledged themselves, individually and collectively, to fulfill their commitment to establish a new international economic order based on justice and equity. They agreed to subscribe to the goals and objectives of the strategy and to translate them into reality by adopting a coherent set of interrelated, concrete, and effective policy measures in all sectors of development.
The strategy set forth goals and objectives for an accelerated development of the developing countries in the period 1981–90, including the following: (1) a 7% average annual rate of growth of gross domestic product (GDP); (2) a 7.5% annual rate of expansion of exports and an 8% annual rate of expansion of imports of goods and services; (3) an increase in gross domestic savings to reach about 24% of GDP by 1990; (4) a rapid and substantial increase in official development assistance by all developed countries, to reach or surpass the target of 0.7% of GNP of developed countries; (5) a 4% average annual rate of expansion of agricultural production; and (6) a 9% annual rate of expansion of manufacturing output. Other goals and objectives of the strategy included the attainment, by the year 2000, of full employment, of universal primary school enrollment, and of life expectancy of 60 years as a minimum, with infant mortality rates no higher than 50 per 1,000 live births.
The strategy also set out a series of policy measures—in international trade, industrialization, food and agriculture, financial resources for development, international monetary and financial issues, science and technology for development, energy, transportation, environment, human settlements, disaster relief, and social development, as well as in technical cooperation, including cooperation among developing countries themselves, and special measures for the least-developed countries and for geographically disadvantaged countries, such as island and landlocked developing countries.
In fact, the 1980s was a terrible decade for the economies of developing countries. By 1990 only five donor countries had met the UN's target of donating 0.7% of their GNP to development: Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and France. Canada and Germany had achieved a level of 0.4% of their GNP. The United States, which had never agreed to the UN target, had given 0.2% of its GNP. Intransigent recession in the industrialized world, declining commodity prices, rising interest rates, trade barriers, and crippling international debt meant human suffering for the vast majority of the world's population. By 1990 4.2 billion of the world's 5.3 billion people lived in developing countries. Overall growth in these nations shrank to about 3% annually, and per capita growth to 1%, compared to averages of5.5% in the 1960s and 3% in the 1970s. Lending by the IMF and World Bank group of institutions often came with requirements for "restructuring" that carried a heavy price in terms of human sacrifice. Debt-laden developing countries found themselves spending vastly more on debt service than on social services.
This dismal result was illustrated by the fact that the number of countries designated by the General Assembly as "least developed" had grown from 24 in 1972 to 47 in 1991.