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Swiss experts welcome G8 aid packages

Tony Blair (centre) surrounded by G8 leaders and heads of developing countries

(Keystone)

Swiss aid agencies have backed the packages for Africa agreed by world leaders at the G8 summit as well as their pledge to address global climate change.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke on Friday of a "$50 billion uplift" in aid but did not give a timetable for increasing funds.

With a last-minute pledge from Japan, Blair won a key victory from the world’s leading industrialised powers, announcing that aid to Africa would rise from the current $25 billion (SFr32.6 billion) to $50 billion (SFr65.2 billion).

On climate change, however, leaders appeared to bow to US pressure by approving a watered-down declaration that avoids taking any concrete steps to combat global warming, such as setting targets or timetables for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

"I’m very happy to see that Africa is very high on the G8’s agenda," Serge Chappatte, deputy director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), told swissinfo. "More than 40 per cent of the SDC’s total bilateral budget goes to Africa."

Blair had initially proposed getting all summit countries to commit to raising foreign aid to an equivalent of 0.7 per cent of each country’s GDP by 2015.

Christine Eberlein, head of international and financial relations at the Berne Declaration, a Swiss non-governmental organisation, was not in favour of the British proposal.

Future generations pay

"It would mean that [developing] countries would run up debts now but future generations would have to repay them – and we’re totally against that," she told swissinfo.

Chappatte says Switzerland has no problem with the G8’s pledge to eliminate farm export subsidies – a key demand of African nations.

However: "There are different ways in which we can help developing countries to get a bigger share of total trade – because trade is a very powerful engine for development."

Less progress was made on Blair’s other summit goal: pushing for full agreement on the science of climate change – something President Bush has strongly resisted.

The US, the only G8 country that has not ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming, has continued to reject Blair’s calls for setting specific targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Blair said G8 leaders had agreed to begin a new dialogue on climate change with emerging economies, including Brazil, Mexico, China, South Africa and India.

The first meeting is to be held in Britain on November 1.

Right direction

"I’m a very realistic man – I will take whatever comes out of a G8," says Chappatte, adding that he would be happy with modest, steady, constant changes in the right direction – "and I think we’re going in the right direction."

Eberlein is also cautiously optimistic when asked what will have changed by the 2006 G8 summit.

"I don’t think anything will be really different, but the heads of government need to acknowledge that their past promises were just empty. They’re doing this now."

Chappatte concludes: "I hope this summit can give impetus to a real renewed effort towards Africa."

swissinfo

Key facts

The 31st G8 summit took place at the Gleneagles Hotel, Perthshire, Scotland.
The Group of Eight (G8) is a grouping of eight of the world’s leading industrialised nations: France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, the United States, Canada and Russia.

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In brief

Aside from the increase in aid for the African continent, leaders supported new deals on trade, cancelled the debt of some of the world’s poorest nations and pledged universal access to Aids treatment.

They also committed to a peacekeeping force in Africa and heard African leaders promise to move toward democracies that follow the rule of law.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair also announced a $3 billion (SFr3.9 billion) aid deal for the Palestinian Authority over the coming years.

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