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Expert hails G8 discussions on Africa

Former ambassador Nicolas Imboden has welcomed the G8's debate on Africa

(Keystone)

A Swiss expert on trade with Africa says that moves at the G8 summit, taking place in Scotland, to tackle poverty on the continent should be taken seriously.

In an interview carried out before the London attacks on Thursday, Nicolas Imboden also highlighted successful Swiss cooperation with Africa.

Leaders from the world’s eight most powerful industrialised countries have been meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland.

One of the issues that was due to be discussed - before the events in London - was cancelling African nations’ debt and whether aid to these countries should be doubled.

Imboden, a former senior government trade and aid official and ambassador, has first-hand experience of Africa.

He is currently the executive director of the Ideas Centre in Geneva, a non-profit organisaton which specialises in helping low-income countries become part of the world trading system. This includes helping African cotton producers.

swissinfo: What can Africa expect from this summit?

Nicolas Imboden: Many people are talking about empty promises. But Tony Blair’s desire to put African poverty on the agenda is very important.

Furthermore, moves to cancel debt in 18 - mostly African - countries have already been approved by the G8 finance ministers. One can therefore assume that this will be carried out.

However, there is no unanimous agreement on doubling development aid, due to budget deficits. Many are also questioning whether this type of cooperation has been efficient in the past.

swissinfo: How can you explain this interest in Africa?

N.I.: There is, on the one hand, recognition that Africa is going in the wrong direction. In this era of globalisation it’s not acceptable for a continent to undergo no development.

On the other hand, Africa is effectively the last untapped market left on the planet with considerable resources, notably oil.

Africa is also on Europe’s doorstep – if the disasters continue this will certainly have an effect on immigration.

swissinfo: What can be done – must one increase aid or help facilitate trade?

N.I.: Both. To survive in a globalised economy one needs access to world markets. The Africans are therefore calling for World Trade Organization rules to be revised to be more favourable to their interests.

But this is not enough. If countries don’t have enough resources, they will need aid – in the short term.

Having said that, aid without trade is a recipe for failure. What’s the point of helping African cotton producers if they have to compete with subsidised cotton produced in northern countries?

swissinfo: Africa’s problems are always highlighted, but there have also been some successes.

N.I.: The problems that affect the majority of African countries are enormous. But there are some positive signals as well. Last year growth in Africa rose by five per cent, the highest amount in ten years.

Furthermore, two thirds of African governments have been elected democratically, which is great progress. Several major conflicts have been resolved, such as in Angola and Mozambique.

swissinfo: Could Swiss cooperation with Africa – untied aid (freedom to buy products from all countries) and partnerships with civil society - be a model for others?

N.I.: Switzerland enjoys certain advantages in Africa. It was not a colonising country and it’s not a world power seeking to impose its views on other governments.

Also, because Switzerland has been a bit miserly with its money, it hasn’t launched any huge cooperation projects which have later proved to be incompatible with the real situation in Africa.

Many African leaders have therefore told me that, while Switzerland hasn’t launched many projects, those which it has set in motion work well.

swissinfo-interview: Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

In brief

The G8 summit unites the leaders of Britain, France, the United States, Japan, Germany, Italy, Canada and Russia.

They are meeting in Gleneagles in Scotland from July 6-8.

High on the agenda is the cancellation of debt in the world's 18 poorest countries, which includes 14 African nations.

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