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No Right Turn: G8 - Disappointing

No Right Turn

G8: Disappointing

The G8 has produced its final communique, promising to boost aid to Africa by US$50 billion and forgive some third world debt. But while this will make a real difference, overall it is disappointing. According to Make Poverty History, only 40% of that aid boost is actually new funding, the rest having already been announced. It also will not arrive until 2010. In the intervening five years, millions will die who could have been saved if the boost had been immediate.

The G8 will continue to attach "conditionalities" to both aid and debt forgiveness. This is good when it comes to governance - there is no point in giving aid if it simply goes to an official's Swiss bank account rather than people in need - but the West continues to demand economic liberalisation and privatisation as a condition for receiving assistance. In New Zealand, this economic programme resulted in widespread hardship for many, and skyrocketing wealth for a few. In Africa, it kills people. User charges for basic healthcare result in reduced access and hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths every year. User charges for water have resulted in epidemics. Privatisations have resulted in basic services such as water being denied to millions, and in some cases even stopped completely, as the owners shut down and pull out. The result is yet more deaths. And yet donor nations and institutions continue to demand these policies.

However, the biggest failure is on trade. By focusing on aid and debt relief, the G8 have fundamentally missed the point. While increased aid is both welcome and necessary, the long-term solution to Africa's problems lies in internal economic development and being able to "trade their way out of poverty". This in turn requires access to western markets - something currently denied to them. The G8 has simply failed to address this problem. Rather than taking a historic opportunity to commit to ending subsidies and trade barriers which ruin poor countries, the G8 have chosen to work through the WTO - which means the same old one-sided game of the rich countries extracting further concessions from the poor to do what they'd promised to do years ago, and then reneging on the deal (while using their economic clout to force the poor to keep their end anyway). The unfairness of this system is obvious to all, and yet the G8 have chosen to perpetuate it. And the reason is clear: they profit from this inequality, and want to do so for as long as possible - even if it means condemning the poor to further poverty.

(As for climate change, given Bush's intransigence on the issue, the G7 should simply have worked around him, and produced an agreement for those that could agree, rather than wasting their time pandering to his delusions. Yes, America needs to be brought on board - but it is crystal clear that that will not happen so long as Bush is President, and so the rest of the world should simply move on without him).

Again, what the G8 has offered will make a real difference to the fight against poverty. Lives will be saved and made less miserable; some countries will be able to escape the burden of unpayable debt and have a real chance at development; fewer people will die of HIV/AIDS. But they could have - and should have - done more. And we will simply have to keep on pressuring them until they do.


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