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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 19:41 GMT 20:41 UK
World Bank calls for more trade
World Bank President James Wolfensohn
Wolfensohn: 125 million children are not in school
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By David Schepp
BBC News Online's North America Business Reporter

World Bank President James Wolfensohn has said boosting trade among poorer nations is the only guaranteed way to ensure their long-term prosperity.

Mr Wolfensohn's statement echoed the words of his counterpart at the IMF, Managing Director Horst Koehler, who on Wednesday said that a lack of trading partners make Latin American countries more vulnerable to global economic downturns.

Speaking on Friday ahead of this weekend's meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank president spoke of boosting international trade for nations of the region outside of traditional commodities, such as coffee.

"Central America has been hit by a silent hurricane" caused by falling agricultural prices, he said.

Economic recovery

Mr Wolfensohn condemned industrialised nations - as he has done previously - for continuing to spend more on agricultural subsidies than on development assistance for poorer nations.

This approach makes little sense, Mr Wolfensohn said, adding that "the trade issue is not going to go away".

His comments came as finance ministers from a group of 24 developing nations began talks ahead of this weekend's spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Washington.

The Group of 24, as they are called, met to assess the state of their economies amid signs that much of the world - and especially the US - is poised for recovery.

The finance ministers, who represent countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa, are to issue a joint statement later on Friday, which will be studied by policymakers within the IMF and World Bank.

The World Bank is pushing for increased aid to developing nations in order to achieve the United Nations objective of halving the number of poor by 2015.

Pushing education

Sounding a brighter note, Mr Wolfensohn told reporters on Friday that the World Bank and its donor countries have reached a turning point on education.

With approximately 125 million of the world's school-aged children not attending classes, the World Bank is launching an initiative aimed at guaranteeing a primary school education for all children in 10 nations yet to be selected.

Ensuring that all children have at least a primary school education is one of the United Nations Millennium Goals adopted nearly two years ago.

The bank is hoping for strong support among its members for the initiative, for which the institution is "prepared to put up a substantial amounts of money," Mr Wolfensohn said.

Further details of the education initiative are expected to emerge on Sunday, when political leaders including UK chancellor Gordon Brown and Canadian finance minister Paul Martin are due to speak.

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