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Britain strives for Africa aid deal in G8 talks

Reuters | June 10, 2005
By Brian Love and Sumeet Desai

LONDON - Britain appealed on Friday for a big push on debt relief and aid to rid Africa of disease and poverty, but finance ministers from the world's richest nations meeting in London looked unlikely to fulfil the continent's hopes.

"Aid can make the difference between life and death...there is a will to come to an agreement," Finance Minister Gordon Brown told BBC radio ahead of talks where he said he hoped to broker a deal. But he added "much is still to be done."

At stake was Prime Minister Tony Blair's pledge to make 2005 the year the world's wealthy dug into their pockets to write off debts and fund a doubling of aid for Africa, where millions die every year from AIDS, malaria and malnutrition.

The finance ministers, meeting on Friday and Saturday, were also to take stock of their own economic problems, such as slow growth in Europe and Japan, record deficits in the United States and tension over competition from rising star China.

The main focus, however, was on Africa at the meeting of G8 finance ministers from the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Britain and Russia.

Brown has personally championed the African cause and issued proposals to write off debt and double aid to $100 billion a year but many commentators believe the finance ministers will not be able to resolve the issue and the problem will have to be kicked up to the July G8 summit to be hosted by Blair.

Brown acknowledged as much in his radio interview, but said he hoped to secure a deal on the debt front in the London talks. He stressed that G8 governments had signed up in 2000 to U.N. targets of halving world poverty by 2015.

Countries like Malawi were being crippled by AIDS but had to spend more repaying debt than on healthcare, he said.

Several proposals were floated ahead of the talks, officials involved in the meeting said. One of them was to provide 18 countries with $24 billion of debt relief -- $18 billion owed to the World Bank and African Development Bank and $6 billion owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Money raised by IMF gold sales a decade ago would be used.

France, Germany and Japan, however, floated another proposal which would mean debt relief for only five countries, and both ideas fall far short of calls from charities and other debt relief campaigners for help for 62 countries.

German deputy finance minister Caio Koch-Weser was cautious when asked on arrival in London whether he expected a deal. "I can only say we are working on it...we have to reach an agreement by Gleneagles (G8 summit in Scotland in July)," he said.

RICH COUNTRIES HAVE PROBLEMS TOO

Other finance ministers are keen to promote a range of different issues, including keeping up pressure on China, now the world's seventh-largest economy, to play fairer in world trade.

Trade tensions are rising as Chinese clothes' exports to the rest of the world surge and Beijing is under pressure about state controls to keep its currency value low and exports cheap.

U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow urged Chinese counterpart Jin Renqing, who attends the meeting, to scrap the yuan's exchange rate peg to the dollar.

"For their own sake and for the sake of the global economy we are urging them to move to greater flexibility," Snow said on Bloomberg television on Thursday. He was to meet Jin on Friday but the appeal is unlikely to spark any rapid action.

Chinese central banker Ma Delun said on Wednesday Beijing was preparing for reforms at its own pace and criticized what he called politically motivated pressure. China, India, South Africa and Brazil have been invited to a breakfast meeting with the G8 ministers on Saturday.

IMMINENT DEAL ON AFRICA?

Pop star Bob Geldof and others are urging a million people to turn up in Scotland next month to demand a deal on debt relief and aid for Africa, piling the pressure on the G8 leaders and on Brown and the other financiers meeting in London.

Sub-Saharan Africa has $230 billion in external debt and pays $12 billion a year on servicing, according to the most recent figures from the World Bank. A third of the debt is owed to multilateral lenders like the International Monetary Fund.

Britain has said that without 100 percent multilateral debt relief, the poorest countries would pay up to 15 billion pounds ($27.56 billion) principal and interest payments to international organizations between now and 2015.

 

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