Canada and the other industrialized democracies can’t afford to withhold the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to rescue the world’s poorest countries, federal Finance Minister John Manley said Thursday.
Manley said the debt relief programs that will be discussed at this weekend’s G-7 finance ministers’ meetings in Halifax should be of concern to everyone.
If the poor countries cannot provide security for their citizens, then no one living in rich countries will enjoy it either, Manley said.
“We share a very small planet,” he said.
The continuing downward spiral of the world’s poorest countries — found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa — is expected to dominate the Halifax meetings.
The ministers will discuss various ways to reinvigorate the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, the G-7 sponsored debt-relief program that has foundered in recent years.
Since the program was established in 1996, only two countries, Uganda and Bolivia, have met all the conditions — such as avoiding wars and ending corruption, among others — needed to ease debt-repayment requirements.
Manley said the aim of the initiative remains high, but its implementation needs tweaking.
Given the issue’s importance on the ministers’ agenda, Manley said he was surprised people are expected to fill the streets outside the World Trade and Convention Centre protesting actions being taken to solve the debt crisis.
“Instead of demonstrators, we should have people applauding in the streets,” he said.
While the ministers debate debt relief, there is a growing movement to simply forgive the debt without conditions, wiping the slate clean so that the poor countries can rebuild themselves. One high-profile proponent of this view is Irish rocker Bono.
Manley said Thursday that while Canada has already forgiven millions of dollars of debt, it will be far more productive in the long run to encourage the poorest countries to re-invent themselves.
The money from the initiative should come with strings attached to ensure the countries spend the newly freed-up money on health, education and infrastructure, spending that in time will lift the countries out of their current malaise, Manley said.
The G-7 event includes finance ministers from France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Britain, the United States and Canada (and Russia, in a reduced capacity) as well as the heads of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Union.
They’ll begin with a working dinner at Halifax City Hall Friday, and continue with a morning meeting Saturday at Windows restaurant in the World Trade and Convention Centre.
In the early afternoon, ministers will hold a media briefing before heading home.
While multilateral issues will dominate the bulk of the meeting, Manley has scheduled a one-on-one meeting with his American counterpart, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, this afternoon. The on-going softwood lumber dispute and issues surrounding border security will take up most of that brief meeting.
Manley, as the most junior finance minister coming to Halifax, said he also wanted to establish a “personal rapport” in the meeting with O’Neill.
Manley is making his international debut as finance minister. He replaced Paul Martin in the job two weeks ago.
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