July 5, 2005

Africa urges G8 to scrap debt, reform trade

By William Maclean

SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - African leaders urged a summit ofrich nations opening in Britain on Wednesday to cancel debtowed by African governments, reform international trade andincrease aid to fight poverty on the continent.

Heads of state of the African Union (AU), ending a two-daymeeting in Libya, also pledged to step up efforts to end warand political instability and improve standards of governanceto attract investment to the world's poorest continent.

"We request the developed countries and developmentpartners to expedite the process of total debt cancellation forAfrica by the year 2007," said a resolution issued on the eveof the summit of the Group of Eight countries in Scotland.

"We call on the international community to establish a fairand equitable trading system and to facilitate Africa's accessto fair markets through ... the elimination of tariff andnon-tariff barriers ... and trade distorting subsidies anddomestic support, especially in agriculture."

Sub-Saharan Africa's debt burden is estimated at about $230billion, much of which was borrowed during the Cold War bymilitary strongmen who misused it in many ways including toprop up dictatorial rule, anti-poverty campaigners say.

African countries pay out about $39 billion per year indebt servicing.

The leaders delicately skirted around a call by their host,Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, that they reject foreign aidextended under what he called humiliating conditions.

Gaddafi, a wealthy force among poor African states, hadtold the leaders on Monday that the solution to Africa's woeswas the creation of one pan-continental country with oneAfrican passport and the appointment of federal ministers.

The leaders politely agreed to consider his ideas.


The African gathering fully supported the recommendationsof a UK-sponsored report prepared for the G8 summit onWednesday and Thursday, which gathers the leaders of theworld's wealthiest countries including Russia.

"The Assembly (of AU leaders) commends UK Prime MinisterTony Blair and his government for pushing robust global actionin support of Africa's efforts toward growth, poverty reductionand prosperity," they said.

"The Assembly strongly urges the G8 Summit scheduled for6-8 July 2005 in Gleneagles to fully embrace the comprehensiverecommendations of the Commission for Africa and actexpeditiously on them," they said.

But the AU call for total debt cancellation actually goesfurther than the recommendations in Blair's report.

His report calls for freer trade, a big rise in aid anddebt cancellation for only the poorest African countries.

More than 40 percent of Africans live on less than $1 aday, 200 million Africans are threatened by serious foodshortages and AIDS kills more than 2 million Africans a year.

G8 host Britain said any move to increase aid to Africa wassimply the right thing to do, and in any case trade was the keyto unlocking Africa's development.

"It's not about charity, it's about justice," saidBritain's International Development Secretary Hilary Benn, whowas attending the African meeting.

"But in the end it's going to be economic development,opening up the world trading system, enabling Africa to earnand trade its way out of poverty that's really going to makethe difference and for that to happen you also need peace andstability, good governance."

In the African gathering's other major piece of business,the leaders endorsed a plan to demand two permanent seats on areformed U.N. Security Council, although they dodged thequestion of how their representatives would be selected.