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G8 Finance Chiefs Edge Closer to African Poverty Package


Finance ministers from the world's wealthiest nations are meeting in London for two crucial days of talks aimed at securing an agreement on writing off billions of dollars in multinational debt owed by the poorest countries. The ministers hope to finalize details that will form the basis of a deal to be unveiled at next month's G8 summit in Scotland.

The burdensome debt, in many cases, goes back decades. Advocates of debt relief argue that paying the interest alone minimizes the amount of money spent in some countries on education and health care costs.

Britain's treasury chief, Gordon Brown, is hosting the discussions here. Following a meeting on Tuesday in Washington between President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr. Brown senses a growing momentum to solve the vexing debt problem.

"Thanks to the meeting between President Bush and Tony Blair, we have made progress this week, and I believe we can make the additional progress over the next two days," Mr. Brown said. "Now, of course, much is to be discussed, and you are talking about debt arrangements that have been calculated over 40 years, and that is why, probably, [these are] the most detailed discussions I have ever had on debt interest."

Speaking on British radio, Gordon Brown added that, while it is a complex problem, the successful cancellation of the debt could transform and save many lives in Africa over the next 10 years, where programs like comprehensive immunization plans could be put in place.

"There is a will to come to an agreement, and I am grateful to John Snow, the American secretary, for saying yesterday that he wanted to get an agreement this weekend on this, and I believe my European friends, whom I have talked to in the last few days, are also of the same view, and it would be an historic agreement," added Mr. Brown. "Much is still to be done. But I think there is a will to do this in a way that would see the biggest debt settlement the world has seen."

Under discussion, is where to draw the line between those countries that would receive debt relief and those that would not.

Also, the specific mechanics of just how that debt would be written off by organizations such as the World Bank must be fully agreed.

Debt cancellation is one of the three main planks in the British plan to break the cycle of poverty in Africa. Tony Blair's Commission for Africa also recommends the doubling of aid to Africa's most impoverished nations from wealthy countries over the next five years, and the elimination of trade barriers that would open markets to the developing states.