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Britain's Treasury Boss Outlines Aid Plan for Africa

Britain's chief finance minister, Gordon Brown, has outlined a far-reaching plan to boost development in Africa through debt cancellation, increased aid and lower export trade subsidies. It is the plan Prime Minister Blair will be trying to sell to President Bush when he visits Washington next week.

The sweeping program Gordon Brown calls "a modern Marshall Plan" came out of the Commission on Africa, a body set up last year by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Speaking in Edinburgh, Scotland, Mr. Brown called it a new deal between rich and poor countries. It entails the cancellation of multinational debt for the poorest states in Africa, a doubling of aid to those developing countries over the next five to 10 years and the reduction of export trade restrictions on African goods.

Prime Minister Blair has been out selling the plan and he has already received a warm reception from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Next Tuesday, the British leader will meet with President Bush in Washington. On the proposed doubling of aid, the U.S. administration has so far reacted coolly.

Following the American leg of his journey, Mr. Blair plans to fly to France, Germany and Russia ahead of next month's summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, of the leading industrial nations plus Russia.

In Edinburgh Friday, Gordon Brown sounded upbeat that an agreement on debt relief could be reached. He said, it is not a time for timidity.

"In the next month, in the run up to Gleneagles, we will propose and seek an international agreement for a 100 percent debt relief," he said, "relieving the poorest countries of the burden of debts owed to institutions like the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the IMF and we want the richest countries to commit to wiping out these debt payments, which each year cost between $1 billion to $2 billion, and we want an agreement from the richest countries to the additional money necessary to do so."

On increasing relief aid from the world's richest to poorest nations, Mr. Brown said the European Union (EU) was now on track to double its funds by the year 2010. He said the task would be to get all of the nations attending the July summit in Scotland to sign up to this plan.

"The G-8 meetings will give a chance to seek the wider international agreement on levels of development aid support for the future," he added.

Mr. Brown says the third leg of the British African plan is to establish a level playing field, regarding trade between the world's richest and poorest nations.

"We want to see all countries agreeing to remove all export subsidies that are trade-distorting support for agriculture, and work against producers in the developing world. And, we recognize that we need not only to improve trading arrangements, but by finance that could be made available after Gleneagles to help developing countries build capacity to trade," noted Mr. Brown.

Mindful of past failed initiatives, Gordon Brown underlines that good governance, transparency, a crackdown on corruption and the encouragement of private investment are all key ingredients required for success this time.