Clock Ticking for G8 Breakthrough on Africa

By Oxfam

As negotiations continue on the eve of the G8 summit, Oxfam is warning world leaders that millions of people around the world are expecting them to clinch a breakthrough deal for Africa.

Thousands of activists from scores of countries, including the US, have converged on Scotland to make their voices heard and to ensure a significant commitment from G8 countries on Africa. Prospects for such a commitment are still up in the air.

"Never before has the language of the G8 communiqué been still so contested at this late stage in the game," said Oxfam America's Director of Policy Chad Dobson in Edinburgh. "Many have descended on Scotland from around the world to encourage leaders to make poverty history, but there is no sign of that historic breakthrough so far."

Oxfam has called on G8 leaders to agree to an additional $50 billion a year in aid to poor countries—with $25 billion for Africa—effective immediately. Delaying these aid increases until 2010, as is currently proposed, would leave a $100 billion black hole in aid budgets, consigning 500 million more people to poverty. Oxfam also called on the G8 countries to reach the UN target of spending 0.7 percent of their national income on aid by 2010 at the latest, a promise made by developed countries 35 years ago.

"The US should be a leader in this movement, as Americans are a generous people and care about these issues," said Dobson. "While France is in the lead, saying they will reach the 0.7 target by 2012, followed by the UK with 2013, and Germany and Italy with 2015, the US, along with Canada and Japan, are nowhere near."

Oxfam has also called on G8 countries to set a firm date to phase out trade-distorting agricultural subsidies, which encourage the dumping of taxpayer-subsidized commodities on world markets, causing a depression in prices and threatening the livelihood of developing-country farmers. G8 leaders must also make a firm commitment to allow poor countries to decide their own trade policies, instead of forcing them to open up their markets or privatize basic services before they are ready.

"I'm proud to be here with the many activists that have come from the US and many other countries around the world and add my voice to the growing movement to fight extreme poverty in Africa," said Dijimon Hounsou, the Oscar-nominated actor who traveled to Scotland for the summit. "Having just returned from Mali, where I met cotton farmers struggling to live on less than a dollar a day, I was moved to do anything I can to bring attention to their plight."

Oxfam estimates that cotton-producing countries lost $400 million as a direct consequence of US cotton subsidies between 2001 and 2003. Although President Bush has recently commented on his personal commitment to getting rid of subsidies if the Europeans do the same, not much has actually been done.

"The G8 is not the time for a transatlantic tit-for-tat," continued Dobson. "G8 leaders must act for bold leadership and immediate action on promises made years ago to reform their trade-distorting agricultural support and set out a bold agenda in the run-up to the Hong Kong WTO ministerial. How long are farmers in Africa, whose livelihoods are being damaged every day by trade-distorting subsidies, going to have to wait for real change?"

Oxfam also called on G8 leaders to fully affirm last month's agreement by their finance ministers to cancel 100 percent of the debts of some poor countries, and urged them to expand the list of countries that qualify. Desperately poor countries with huge debts such as Sri Lanka and Kenya should also be included.

"There will be no victory against poverty while debt continues to cripple the efforts of poor countries to tackle poverty," Dobson said. "Poor countries need 100 percent cancellation of their debts so the money can be spent on saving lives."

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