High aims, mixed results


Los Angeles Times

July 10, 2005

He had to duck out for a time to return to a London gripped by terrorist bombings, yet Tony Blair remained in full command of the annual meeting of industrialized nations he played host to in Scotland last week. The British prime minister's agenda was the summit's agenda, and it was an ambitious package — pushing for more aid for Africa and the Palestinian territories, as well as a renewed effort to confront the environmental threat of global warming. Given such ambitions, it is no affront to his leadership that he didn't get all he wanted.

Blair has gained stature and moral authority as he prods other rich nations to do what's right for the world's poorest and for the common interest, with somewhat mixed results at this gathering "in the shadow of terrorism." Among the positives, the leaders agreed to provide as much as $9 billion over the next three years to the Palestinian Authority, to help with the peace process by striving to ensure that a future Palestinian state is viable.

Most impressively, Blair persuaded the G-8 leaders to promise to double their aid to Africa by 2010, which, if carried out, will translate into an additional $25 billion a year by then. "It isn't the end of poverty in Africa," Blair said in concluding the summit, "but it is the hope that it can be ended."

Hope is mostly what the pledge consists of, given the lack of specificity in the G-8 communique. To some degree the leaders in Scotland were taking credit for commitments already made in advance of the summit. President Bush, for instance, agreed to double U.S. aid to sub-Saharan Africa but lamentably resisted Blair's entreaties to commit 0.7% of gross domestic product to foreign aid. U.S. development assistance is currently below 0.2%.

On trade, however, it was Bush who was on Blair's side in pressing the other Europeans and Japan to do more to help poorer nations by agreeing to curb their trade-distorting agricultural subsidies — to little avail, in what has to be the most shameful failure of the G-8's development agenda.

The G-8's final communique tepidly hopes for a successful conclusion to the World Trade Organization's so-called Doha Development Round. These are negotiations, launched in late 2001 in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, aimed at creating a more level global playing field, mainly by reducing unfair advantages enjoyed by farmers in rich nations. The talks are well behind schedule, and the G-8 leaders should have given a kick to that effort with concrete proposals or commitments. Pretending, as they did instead, that WTO matters are somehow above their pay grade makes their rhetoric about wanting to help the world's poor ring somewhat hollow.

On global warming, Bush didn't budge much beyond acknowledging that there may be a problem. That meant Blair could gain no more than an agreement to launch talks with a group of developing nations about considering curbs to their greenhouse gas emissions, though it isn't clear why these nations will feel compelled to make sacrifices so long as the U.S. also snubs the Kyoto Protocol.