Sarkozy calls for global finance tax to help the poor
French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday called for a global tax on financial transactions as the UN Millennium Goals summit heard pleas for a new effort to cut poverty.
Sarkozy pressed his controversial tax initiative just after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on world leaders at the summit to provide the necessary money, aid and political will to help the planet's most vulnerable.
More than 140 heads of state or government are to speak at the three day summit which will seek ways to kickstart the eight Millennium Development Goals which were first launched at a UN summit in 2000.
The aims include cutting the number of people in extreme poverty by half and the number of children who die before reaching age five by two thirds, to fairer trade and spreading the Internet to the world's poor. But most experts say none of the aims will be reached by the target date of 2015.
Progress so far has been badly hit by the international financial crisis.
But the French leader, the first head of one of the world's major economies to speak at the summit, said the major powers could not hide behind the crisis to avoid past commitments.
"We have no right to shelter behind the economic crisis as supposed grounds for doing less," he said.
"Finance has globalized, so why should we not ask finance to participate in stabilizing the world by taking a tax on each financial transaction," Sarkozy said, adding that he would press for a global tax when France is head of the Group of 20 and Group of Eight countries next year.
"I want to tell you of my conviction that while all developed countries are in deficit, we must find new sources of financing for the struggle against poverty, for education and for the ending of the planet's big pandemics."
France has been a leading advocate of so-called "Innovative Financing" for development. It was the first country to introduce a tax on airline tickets to pay for aid.
While countries such as Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Norway and others support innovative financing. Free market countries such as the United States are known to be wary of new taxes.
Sarkozy said that France would increase its payments to the UN fund on AIDS and malaria by 20 percent.
In opening the summit, Ban Ki-moon said that world leaders must "send a strong message of hope. Let us keep the promise."
The UN chief said that progress has been made since 2000 in increasing school enrolment rates, expanding access to clean water and controlling killer diseases.
"The transformative impact of the (Millennium Development Goals) is undeniable. This is an achievement we can proud of. But we must protect these advances, many of which are still fragile. And the clock is ticking, with much more to do."
He said world leaders must stay "True to your commitment to end the dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty."
Ban said wealthy countries must keep their commitments to increase "lifeline" assistance to poorer nations.
"Recovery from the economic crisis should not mean a return to the flawed and unjust path that got us into trouble in the first place," he said.
The UN has estimated that at least 120 billion dollars will have to be found over the next five years to hope to meet the eight goals, which also aim to combat disease, protect the environment and boost education.
Aid groups say much more will be needed and have also expressed doubts about the political will of the leaders at the summit to stick to the 2000 goals.
US President Barack Obama will make keynote comments to the summit on Wednesday, but US officials have warned against expecting significant new sums of money.
The volatile mix of leaders at the summit has been highlighted in speeches. Bolivia's President Evo Morales said that the "pillage" of natural resources in poorer countries had to be stopped.
Also sat in the assembly was Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose trip to New York has been surrounded by strict security. He will speak at the summit on Tuesday.
© 2010 AFP