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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May, 2005, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
Blair project: Saving the G8 summit
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

African children at feeding station
Ending African debt is key G8 issue
It sounds simple, the way Bob Geldof puts it, except that it is proving quite complicated.

It would, he said, cost everyone in the West no more than half a stick of chewing gum a day to provide the money to eradicate poverty in Africa.

Put that way, there can be little argument.

But throw in arguments about whether the money would get to the right people, whether it would really be enough and whether education and trade would not be a better way to prosperity (as it was in Asia), then you have the makings of deadlock - or at least heavy weather.

Visits

And it is avoid deadlock that UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is setting off on a series of visits to his fellow leaders in advance of the G8 summit he is to host at Gleneagles in July.

Such rapid-fire visits normally indicate that there are problems to be overcome. A British official cautiously told the BBC: "There is no reason not to be confident, but there is a long way to go."

Along this way, Mr Blair will also press the case for trying to counter climate change through technology - a way of trying to get beyond rows with the US over Kyoto. Indeed, avoiding an anti-American bash-in is part of the plan at Gleneagles.

Africa and world climate are the two issues on which Mr Blair has chosen to make his stand at Gleneagles. Progress will help balance the damage done to his reputation by Iraq. So he is investing a lot to that end.

The extent of the progress, of course, remains to be judged.

These are the aims and the problems:

Africa

The aims: Double aid to Africa. Write off Africa's $80bn debt to international institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. Encourage commitment to giving 0.7% of national wealth to foreign aid. Improve trading conditions. And tie all this in with commitments from Africa to better governance.

The problems: There is disagreement as to how to increase aid. Britain has proposed a new International Finance Facility (IFF) under which loans raised in international markets could be secured by pledges from the rich. This would get more money available earlier. But the US administration says this is not possible, as it cannot commit the Congress. Nor does Washington think that another British idea, to sell unwanted IMF gold stocks, is the right move.

Africa and world climate are the two issues on which Tony Blair has chosen to make his stand at Gleneagles. Progress will help balance the damage done to his reputation by Iraq
There is also an issue over how to write off the debt. Should any write-off then be deducted from aid or should it be new money? The US has proposed a 100% write-off but would reduce aid in proportion. France, Germany and Japan simply want to expand existing debt reduction mechanisms.

The EU has now agreed on a target date of 2015 for all the richer members to reach the 0.7% target (some have already done so and some will do so before then) which is progress, but the US resists such a percentage, arguing that in cash terms it is the most generous anyway.

Climate change

The aims: The British idea is to bridge the gap between the US and everyone else by concentrating on looking at new technologies. The US has its own targets to reduce greenhouse gases, though these are lower than the Kyoto ones, and will not sign up to anything else. Emergent polluters - India, China, South Africa and Mexico and Brazil - have also been invited to take part. They will have to play their part in due course.

The problems: A lot of this is hot air. There will be no formal commitments, but only best intentions and talk of studies and harnessing clean energy technology.

As can be seen, although Bob Geldof thinks it is simple, when you get into the detail, it gets complicated. Governments often makes things so.


SEE ALSO:
US to reject UK climate measures
13 May 05 |  Science/Nature
Geldof in attack on world leaders
16 May 05 |  Scotland


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