English

POLITICS-G8: \’No Time for Pressing Issues Facing Global Economy\’

May 28 2003

Analysis by Julio Godoy

PARIS, May 28 (IPS) The summit of the Group of Eight, to take place
June 1-3 in the French Alpine city of Evian, will not fulfil its own
agenda, independent observers say.

They point out that it will, in fact, fail to address some of the
pressing issues of environment, development and health facing the global
economy.

The meeting, which will bring together the heads of state and
government of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the United States,
Canada, Japan and Russia, was expected to address all these issues.

However, negotiations prior to the summit have downgraded the agenda,
which now will be focused almost exclusively on the so-called war on
international terrorism, the observers said.

On environmental issues, the preparatory meetings held in Paris in
late April abstained from unequivocal statements that would enhance
maritime transport safety of dangerous chemical substances, especially
heavy oil.

Under pressure from Japan, the G8 environment ministers lifted the
ban on single hull frame oil tankers to serve as carriers of chemical
substances. Japan also opposed the strengthening of legal responsibility
of ship owners.

For Hélène Ballande of the environmental organization Friends of the
Earth, Tokyo’s opposition “only reflects Japan’s economic specific
interests, such as the defence of its ship manufacturing industry, and
its heavy dependence on imported oil.”

“The Japanese government wanted to weaken every commitment the G8
environmental ministers intend to take on maritime transport,” Ballande
said in a statement.

Similarly, on health issues, says the French daily Le Monde, “the
original G8 plan of action to improve the access of the world’s poorest
countries to medicaments has been downgraded.”

The newspaper says, the French government had prepared an ambitious
declaration for endorsement by the G8, drawing attention to “the global
hygienic crisis and the critical situation” arising from the lack of
low-cost medicine in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

The initial French position also referred to the Doha Declaration,
issued during the World Trade Organisation (WTO) summit in November 2001
in Qatar. It called for “an integrated framework to improve access to
medical treatment and medicine” in the poorest countries of the world.

This integrated framework would include the boosting of local
medicine production in the countries of the South, and the transfer of
technology from highly developed to developing lands.

“But the U.S. government rejected this original statement, leading to
a downgrading of the health issue in the G8 agenda,” Le Monde claims.

Instead, Washington came out with its own proposal, which dismisses
the notion that “the price of medicaments may be the principal obstacle
to an improvement of health”.

The U.S. proposal also underlines the “importance of a powerful
private sector’s role” in health questions.

According to Le Monde, the French government accepted the U.S.
objections, “surely aiming to avoid new tensions (between Paris and
Washington) as those provoked by the war against Iraq, and which would
endanger the summit of Evian”.

The new so-called ‘Plan of Action for Health’ to be discussed by G8
“pays tribute to the pharmaceutical industry, makes no reference to the
Doha Declaration, to the local production of medicine or to the transfer
of technology”.

For Jean-Hervé Bradol, president of the French organisation Doctors
without Borders, the downgrading of the health issue on the agenda of
the G8 summit “is a very bad news”.

“Three years ago, the G8 meeting at Okinawa fixed ambitious
objectives to reduce the spread of AIDS,” Bradol told IPS. “Since then,
the number of AIDS victims has increased.”

The accusations that private interests are misusing the G8 summit go
further. The G8 will also boost the privatisation of water in the
countries of the South, critics of the summit claim.

According to Corporate European Observatory (CEO), a watchdog
organisation based in Amsterdam, the European Union Water Fund, to be
presented at the G8 summit in Evian “seems more about corporate welfare
than helping the world’s poorest”.

Indeed, water will also be a top issue on the G8 agenda in Evian.
French president Jacques Chirac is preparing a Global Water Plan and
European Commission President Romano Prodi will launch the EU Water
Fund.

The European Union Water Fund is based on proposals made by a panel
mostly financed by private multinationals managing water resources all
over the world, such as the French companies Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux,
and Vivendi.

It is directed by former International Monetary Fund director Michel
Camdessus.

Last March the panel issued a report, titled ‘Financing Water for
All’, also known as ‘The Camdessus Report’, which openly advocates for
the so-called “full cost recovery” of private investments in water.

“Full cost recovery” means that the governments in the poorest
countries of the world would guarantee the private investments in water
infrastructure, either by means of rising water tariffs, or by
subsidies, in case users cannot pay the high water prices.

Camdessus is not only the chairperson of the panel financed by
private water multinationals, but also French President Chirac’s
personal representative for development in Africa.

Olivier Hoedeman of CEO told IPS: “Confidential documents show how
the European Commission has worked in tandem with Suez and other giant
water corporations in developing its international water initiatives.”

Hoedeman recalled that EU officials had maintained intensive
communication with private water companies’ executives, so as to design
a common strategy to force countries in Africa, Latin America, and South
East Asia, to open their water services to privatisation.

“In early April the European Commission released a first proposal for
a new 1 billion euro (1.17 billion dollars) fund for water investments
in 77 developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific
(ACP), all former colonies of EU member states,” CEO says in a paper
analysing the EU strategy for water privatisation.

The EU claims that its fund “should be able to give a very flexible
answer to a variety of situations, providing the missing link in the
financing of sustainable projects/activities”.

“The need for a fund of this kind is obvious, but the EU proposal
seems heavily influenced by the Camdessus report,” Hoedeman said.

“While mostly shrouded in ambiguous wording, the Fund proposal
clearly suggests providing public finance to private water corporations
wanting to run water delivery in the South,” he added.

Ballande also called the Camdessus Report “a proposal to guarantee
private water companies that their investments in Africa, Asia, and
Latin America will always be lucrative, despite of the market
situation”.

He said the G8 had abandoned plans for a ‘Charter of Principles for a
Responsible Market Economy’, which would formulate the basis for
so-called ethical corporate governance.

According to Ballande, both the U.S. and the British governments
opposed the charter, and pressed instead for a new investment agreement
under the WTO to favour private multinationals.

“This new investment agreement would secure more rights to
multinationals to take developing countries to court if these countries
try to improve the situation of national enterprises,” Ballande told
IPS.

The new investment agreement reminds of the so-called and highly
controversial, a project of the Organization for Economic Co-operation
and Development (OECD) û the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI)
û that aimed to enhance the legal rights of private multinationals.

Discussed in secret sessions at the OECD in 1997, MAI plans were
unravelled by non-governmental organisations in Canada and in France.
Bowing to public protests, both countries’ governments withdrew their
support for the plan, bringing it down. (END/IPS)

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“Other News” is a personal initiative seeking to provide information that should be in the media but is not, because of commercial criteria. It welcomes contributions from everybody. Work areas include information on global issues, north-sutrh relations, gobernability of globalization. The “Other News” motto is a phrase which appeared on the wall of Barcelona’s old Customs Office, at the beginning of 2003:â€?What walls utter, media keeps silentâ€?
Roberto Savio

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