- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 30, 2002

As leaders of the industrialized Group of Eight countries gathered in the Canadian Rockies, the rest of the world seemed to be boiling over. Although Africa's strident problems were scheduled to dominate the discourse, the crisis in the Middle East, and controversy over how to approach it, threatened to eclipse it. On the other side of the globe, meanwhile, at least two protesters were shot dead in economically plagued Argentina on Wednesday. And while it would be tricky to rate these problems in terms of their order of importance, Africa's troubles certainly merit the leaders' immediate attention, and there is much ground to cover. Sadly, leaders scarcely discussed what can most effectively spur growth in Africa, which is trade. Pushing forward trade happens to be a politically risky venture, and even this Republican administration has made only half-hearted attempts at advancing it.
Thankfully, the G-8 leaders did get around to acknowledging the impact that their farm subsidies have on Africa's agricultural exports. "We have committed ourselves to phasing out the agricultural subsidies that keep African goods out of our markets," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "Free trade is what Africa needs." But unfortunately, this stated commitment was as vague as it sounds and is belied by the $51 billion increase in U.S. farm subsidies that President Bush signed into law last month.
More positively, the G-8 leaders made headway on debt forgiveness and pledged to give $1 billion toward this end. The administration struck just the right tone in stressing the virtues of giving grants to African nations in the future, rather than loans, to prevent governments from amassing burdensome debt. Many African countries, including some that have received some debt relief, spend more money servicing foreign debt than they do on health care or education.
Also, the G-8 leaders agreed to devote half of a $12 billion aid increase by 2006 to Africa. The European Union, and the Canadian and U.S. leaders had agreed to the aid boost at the U.N. conference in Monterrey, Mexico, in March. Echoing the concept behind the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), which was put forth by African leaders, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said that aid would be linked to governments' progress in bolstering transparency and progress on other reforms. The idea behind NEPAD, a kind of Marshall Plan for Africa, is sound, but the G-8 leaders must ensure that a nonpolitical body evaluates how effectively aid recipients have met reform commitments.
The G-8 leaders won't be able to solve all the world's problems while sequestered in the Canadian Rockies. But they should work hard to reach a consensus on the most pressing concerns. Also, they should strive to draw a bold plan for a new day in Africa. The great strides that many Asian countries have made in the past few decades demonstrates how remarkably feasible progress can be.


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