Amid a possible recession, trade ministers seek to advance talks in Davos
26 January 2008
DAVOS – With fears of a global recession growing, trade ministers were meeting in the Swiss Alps on Saturday to see if they could advance long-stalled global commerce talks and provide a boost to a troubled world economy.
While ambition has been set low, the meeting of about 20 countries will provide an indication of whether hopes can be revived for a global trade pact touted as the best way to lift millions of people out of poverty worldwide.
It comes a day after U2 frontman Bono, Queen Rania of Jordan, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and other prominent speakers at the World Economic Forum demanded that people and businesses everywhere help reduce poverty for “the bottom billion”, who struggle to survive on less than US$1 a day.
“We are here to say one thing loud and clear: Not on our watch,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “We should be the champions of the weak and disadvantaged, those who suffer the most grinding poverty.”
A deal in the so-called Doha round of trade talks could be one way to improve their fortunes. It aims to cut tariffs and slash subsidies in global manufacturing and agriculture, with a particular emphasis on helping poorer countries harness globalization to develop their economies.
Rich countries would also benefit through new export opportunities and better rules for global commerce, according to the blueprint agreed to in 2001. The round, however, has repeatedly stalled and missed countless deadlines as a result of fierce battles between the United States, the European Union and other rich nations, and emerging powers such as Brazil, China and India.
Japan’s leader, meanwhile, met with Bono, Gates, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and others to discuss ways to help sub-Saharan Africa. “They conveyed to me what we should do to address issues of African development,” Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said.
On Friday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said it was imperative that the world step up efforts to reach a series of sweeping UN goals to cut extreme poverty by half, give all children an elementary education, improve access to clean water and reverse the AIDS pandemic.
“In Davos we tell the truth,” he said, “that there is a development and poverty emergency around the world, that if we do not act we have no chance of meeting the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.”
Brown said he was calling a meeting of private companies in May to galvanize support to meet the goals. He said the issue will also be high on the agenda of the European Council and the G-8 meeting in Japan in July.
Ban said he was inviting world leaders to a high-level meeting in New York in September to spur political momentum to meet the goals.
“Let 2008 be the year of the bottom billion,” Ban said.
Gates, who later this year will be stepping down as Microsoft chairman to concentrate full-time on his massive philanthropic foundation, led by example, announcing a grant of US$306 million to help millions of African farmers and others work their way out of poverty.
“All of these goals are important,” Gates said. “We are drawing in more people. We can make more progress. So it’s important to be part of this endeavor. It’s the most important work in the world.”
There was a far blunter call to arms from the straight-talking Bono, a frequent invitee to Davos who rarely misses an opportunity to talk truth to power.
The rock star said that half way to the 2015 deadline, the world had reached a critical moment – and there was no sign yet that it would step up to it.
“This is the moment when our generation gets to draw a line in the sand – or snow,” he said, a reference to Davos’ Alpine setting.
[Copyright ap 2008]