Something to celebrate
Saturday July 09 2005
The Guardian

It was frequently said that the eyes of the world would be on Britain
this week - and so they were. When Tony Blair gave a televised
address on Thursday he was flanked by George Bush and Jacques Chirac,
as well as many other presidents and leaders. But rather than
discussing poverty and climate change at the Group of Eight summit in
Gleneagles, Mr Blair's words dealt with the tragic events in London.
The terrorists' deadly attack on the capital had an unfortunate and
unwanted effect of reducing the pressure that had been building as
the leaders gathered in Scotland. Even at a late stage, the threat of
real public opprobrium had hung over Gleneagles, making the leaders
conscious that if they failed to provide real and effective proposals
they would face political consequences. In the end, the bombers let
them off the hook.

In the final analysis the Gleneagles G8 summit may be seen as a
missed opportunity. There are just 10 years left to meet the goals
set out in the United Nations' millennium declaration on reducing
poverty and improving education, equality and health. The G8 leaders
of the developed world therefore needed to spread their wealth and
expertise in far greater quantities to the developing world to meet
those goals. This was probably the only remaining chance to do so - a
fact that Tony Blair, to his credit, realised. No one can fault his
ambition or his intentions. Yet the declarations that launched
Britain's leadership of the G8 this year were unable to stir enough
action by enough of Mr Blair's peers. It is true that Africa was
placed at the centre of an extraordinary international debate. But
for anyone thrilled by pre-summit talk of a Marshall plan for Africa,
the result will have been disappointing.

Two other complex issues were also on the table this week:
international trade and climate change. On climate change there was
some progress, but it was more symbolic than tangible. The agreement
by the US to endorse a statement that places the blame for global
warming on human activity is a breakthrough of sorts. However it only
brings the US to the same page of the book that other countries have
been reading from for several years. On trade the results were even
less fruitful. The G8 leaders did pledge to do away with harmful
export subsidies, but without giving a deadline (although the hopes
are for the EU and the US to agree to a date of 2010). There was also
a step backwards in the language used by the G8, restricting special
treatment on trade access to only the poorest and least well-off
countries - which includes much of Africa - but snubbing the larger
developing nations of China, Brazil and India. The G8 would have done
well to remember that India alone has more of the world's poor than
the whole continent of Africa. At this rate, with trade talks in
Geneva already deadlocked, the crucial December meeting of the World
Trade Organisation is shaping up to be a rerun of the Cancun trade
talks that ended in such acrimony.

A useful question is this: realistically, could Gleneagles have
produced more? The answer is almost certainly yes. But it is also
important to recognise what was agreed. On debt relief, there was
little added to the deal announced by the G8 finance ministers last
month. On aid, the results were more spectacular; $20bn in new funds
compared with 2004. While not quite the doubling of aid claimed, this
is still a significant achievement, thanks in part to Japan's
decision to give an extra $2bn a year. More important is what happens
to that aid - and this could be Gleneagles' finest achievement, one
that may be recalled when Thursday has become a distant memory. The
very substantial communiqué declares that developing countries
must "decide, plan and sequence their economic policies to fit with
their own development strategies, for which they should be
accountable to all their people". These words are pregnant with
implications for a more humane strategy of development. Now they must
really be put into practice.

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