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Anti-Poverty Summit Hears Call for Global Taxes - 2004-09-21

The presidents of Brazil and France are calling for international taxes to combat poverty. The proposal was introduced at a one-day summit on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly annual debate.

President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil convened the gathering of world leaders in an attempt to breathe new life into the global war on hunger. More than 40 other world leaders responded, many of them from the developing world.

Speaking to the group, the Brazilian leader called for radical new measures to raise money for poverty alleviation. He spoke through a translator.

"We are here to together turn a new page in efforts to fight hunger and poverty. Let us never forget that hunger is the cruelest of weapons of mass destruction," he said.

President Da Silva was joined by French President Jacques Chirac in suggesting that global taxes might be necessary to finance the anti-poverty campaign. French and Brazilian diplomats say the taxes could include levies on international financial transactions, airline tickets, greenhouse gas emissions, and the sale of heavy weapons.

French President Chirac told the summit that ideas once viewed as utopian or irresponsible are coming to the fore. Speaking through an interpreter, he said "a taboo is lifting."

"We know perfectly well that at the current rate we have no chance of achieving our objectives. We have to find at least 50-billion dollars a year between now and 2015 if we hope to respect our commitments," he said.

Mr. Chirac flew into New York especially for meetings on poverty and globalization, and was due to return to Paris immediately afterward. His early departure means he will not cross paths with President Bush, who arrives Tuesday to address the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly debate.

The Bush administration sent a relatively low-ranking official, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, as its representative to the poverty summit. In her address, Secretary Veneman had harsh words for the idea of global taxes to finance anti-poverty programs.

"There is too much emphasis on schemes such as global taxes to raise external resources," she said. "Global taxes are inherently undemocratic. Implementation is impossible."

In an earlier address to the summit, Secretary General Kofi Annan took a neutral stand on the question of global taxes. He noted that it is easy to say something must be done to generate resources to defeat poverty and hunger. The challenge, he said, is what to do.

But Mr. Annan cautioned that a debate over ways to fight poverty should not be used as an excuse to delay action. Noting that the number of hungry people worldwide is on the rise, he said 'we need to move quickly'.