06 July 2005


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G8 leaders in the spotlight

James Debono

Rock stars like Bob Geldof and the army of pop stars that he assembled on Saturday have succeeded in putting the G8 Summit, which starts today under the media spotlight.
But Bush has made it clear that on issues like climate change he will defend his country’s interests.
After Live 8 the eight leaders will be under pressure not to appear stingy. But this risks making the whole occasion a PR exercise.
The figures quoted during the past days on poverty in Africa speak volumes.
Most of Sub-Saharan Africa is in the World Bank's lowest income category of less than Lm250 Gross National Income (GNI) per person per year.
Ethiopia and Burundi are the worst off with just Lm30 GNI per person per year.
These countries are still paying about Lm1 billion to service their remaining debts.
Some estimates suggest that of every $1 received in loans, 80 cents went right back out the same year in debt servicing.
Tony Blair, who will preside over the seven other leaders during the next three days, has chosen climate change and Africa as the big themes, and he wants the G8 to agree on action in three key areas.
He has called for 100 per cent debt relief for the poorest countries, a large increase in development aid and changes to world trade rules to make it easier for African economies to grow.
But yesterday, Make Poverty History which has spearheaded the campaign for debt relief, accused Gordon Brown of hyping the debt deal offered by rich countries to Africa ahead of this week's G8 summit.
In a letter to the chancellor, the chairman of Make Poverty History, Richard Bennett expressed “dismay and serious concern” at the way Britain was presenting proposals for debt cancellation.
“What is being discussed is emphatically not 100 per cent debt cancellation for the world's poorest countries.”
Steve Tibbett, Christian Aid 's head of policy and campaigns, said: “It is shocking that the government is using millions of poor people to score a PR coup.”
Gordon Brown replied by stating that: “I can tell you now that we have already decided that in this year, 2005, 18 of the poorest countries of the world - then 28 and then 38 - will for the first time have 100% of their debts written off.”
African leaders meeting in Tripoli have also raised the stakes.
They are urging the G8 to end all $350bn of African debt not just the $40bn planned.
Addressing fellow African leaders Libyan leader Colonel Ghaddafi declared:
“We are not beggars at the doorsteps of the rich. If you give a poor man money, you don't ask him to change his clothes or the way he prays.”
But this is a major concern for countries like Germany that do not want western money to finance corrupt dictatorships.
Whether Blair will go down in history as the man who gave Africa and the world a fair deal depends on his ally George W Bush. But Bush has made clear in an interview on ITV that he owes Blair nothing for his support in Iraq.
Some have anticipated that the G8 result will bring about a rift between the two leaders.
George Bush does not want to be left looking like the leader who was stingy about aid for Africa
But the President has brushed off campaigners' complaints that his decision to double US development aid by 2010 is too little, too late.
The US currently gives 0.2 per cent of its GDP in overseas aid - well below the UN's 0.7 per cent target, which EU states are committed to reaching in the next few years.
As regards fairer trade with Africa, Bush expressed readiness to abandon farm subsidies, which make it difficult for African economies to compete, but only if the EU was also prepared to scrap its common agricultural policy.
Bush knows the CAP will never be scrapped.
Ironically, just as the G8 leaders will be sitting down in Scotland, trade negotiators are squabbling over agricultural issues in Geneva, with Western nations doing all they can to block progress in areas like sugar and cotton, where huge subsidies undermine attempts by developing countries to export their products.
While some sort of consensus on Africa is likely, no such consensus exists on another major global threat: global warming.
On climate change French President Chirac could seek to force Blair to choose between Europe and Mr Bush.
US President George Bush is now ready to concede that climate change has scientific basis.
Until now, Bush has insisted there is no scientific basis to conclude that there is such a phenomenon as global warming.
But agreeing a deal on carbon emissions would mean confronting the oil industry, and this he will not do.

jdebono@newsworksltd.com



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