Tear gas mixed with good intentions yesterday as the world’s leading finance ministers made vague promises to fix many of the globe’s problems.
As protesters pushed against security forces outside, the G-7 finance ministers made some progress toward a number of issues that have stymied development efforts, especially in Africa.
Finance Minister John Manley said at a wrap-up news conference the ministers had reached agreement on their development agenda, a broad range of issues ranging from world debt relief to education funding.
Pushing through with the agenda will lead to the creation of a world with “strong and sustained growth that will benefit all countries and all peoples,” he said.
Sitting in Windows Restaurant high atop Halifax’s World Trade and Convention Centre, finance ministers from France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, the United States, Japan and Italy discussed topics that ranged from rescuing poor countries drowning in debt to the situation in Argentina to the state of the reformed Russian economy.
Manley said the ministers have created a “development compact” that will seek to determine whether aid granted is actually accomplishing its goals.
The ministers also annnounced plans to rework the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative, a multi-billion-dollar program designed to ease the crushing debt burdens of the world’s least developed nations, most of them in Africa.
More of the financial institutions owed money by these countries will be invited to discuss how to restructure the bad loans, and donor countries, including Canada, have committed themelves to complete funding of the initiative.
Manley said debt relief is not a panacea for the miseries that bedevil many African countries.
“Debt relief ... is a factor in building a sustainable fiscal situation,” he said.
The ministers committed their countries to helping the World Bank’s Education for All program, an effort to educate the 125 million children in developing nations who don’t attend school.
The program will be paid for by a series of bilateral funding agreements between donors and the poor countries, who will also be expected to provide funding.
Before countries can receive the education aid, they will have to prepare what the official statement dubbed “credible education plans” on how they will use the cash.
But there will be no “super fund” to draw on, one Canadian official said, and that is a clear failure, according to London-based development agency Oxfam.
“The G-7 finance ministers have failed to deliver on their repeated promises to the world’s children,” Oxfam spokesman Oliver Buston said in a release.
On Friday, Manley criticized the U.S.’s subsidy-laden farm support bill, which he said would hurt efforts to convince Third World farmers to switch from growing illicit drugs to legal crops.
The U.S. bill will depress prices worldwide, Manley said, and close out American markets to those farmers.
But even concerns about funding crime, and possibily terrorism as well, failed to make much of an impact on U.S. treasury secretary Paul O’Neill.
“(The Americans) were very sympathic, but also pointed out the results of the congressional vote on the farm bill, which were a rather significant majority (in favour),” Manley said.
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