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Europe

Germany Pushes Debt Relief at G8 Summit

Increased aid and debt relief for Africa top the G8 summit agenda. German Chancellor Schröder is optimistic the goals will be acheived. But, agricultural subsidies remain a major sticking point.

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Schröder rubbed shoulders with singers Geldof and Bono in Scotland

The leaders of the world's most powerful nations are coming under renewed pressure to take concrete action against poverty in Africa. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, however, was confident that the heads of states at the G8 summit will agree on increasing aid to Africa.

Leaders from the Group of Eight -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States -- are meeting at the luxury Gleneagles golf resort in Scotland from Thursday.

"It is my goal that we resolve in Gleneagles to completely forgive the debts of the highly-indebted poorest developing countries," said Schröder in an article for the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel. This would grant an additional $56 billion (46.47 billion euros) debt relief for these nations.

"This would provide a long-term window of opportunity for investments in education and social infrastructure, which these countries urgently need," said Schröder. But, he added, this support had to be tied to positive government leadership.

"This is the only way to ensure that the debt relief will truly serve to overcome hunger and poverty," the Chancellor said. Upon his arrival in Gleneagles on Wednesday, Schröder said he assumed that the leaders will rubber-stamp the debt relief.

Rock stars put glamorous pressure on politicians

Government leaders are coming under heavy pressure from rock star turned anti-poverty activist Bob Geldof and U2 frontman Bono, who are heading a massive publicity drive to secure a doubling of African aid from the G8 countries. The two met with various leaders in the run-up to the summit.

"We've had some very tough meetings here," Bono said at a press conference Wednesday after meetings with Schröder, US President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. The musicians want international aid to Africa to reach $50 billion a year by 2010.

"There is a risk that we may have no deal at the summit," said Bono. "A deal on $50 billion is not there, a deal on trade is not there, the debt stuff is not there."

Schröder trifft Geldof und Bono auf G8-Gipfel

Bono and Geldof also met with Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schröder

For the men in suits who dominate G8 summits, it was probably unusual to argue with unshaven entertainers in leather jackets. But the celebrity campaigners have become pros in the high-stakes diplomatic debate over African poverty.

"This is where it (poverty) stops," said Geldof, who over the weekend organized a global rock concert spanning nine countries to spur the G8 into action this week.

"It would be a terrible failure and three billion people are urging you to take it all the way, to the last minute, to the last second of the last minute," Geldof said.

"We need to say to these eight men in suits that the world is watching -- no more excuses," said Kumi Naidoo of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, which represents some 500 non-governmental organizations. "Never before have so many millions united with one voice to demand an end to poverty."

Agricultural subsidies are the highest barrier

The United States has said the US goal in Africa is to boost annual aid from its present level of $4.3 billion to $8.6 billion a year by 2010. It has also joined the rest of the G8 in agreeing in principle to write off $40 billion in debt owed by 18 poor countries -- 14 of them in Africa -- to the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

But for many African leaders, the most punishing constraints on the continent's well-being are the trade barriers that wealthy nations have erected against African agricultural exports. Meeting in Libya this week, the African Union called for "the abolition of subsidies that stand as an obstacle to trade" and for the adoption of a calendar for their removal.

Agricultural subsidies and other protectionist barriers in wealthy countries are estimated to cost sub-Saharan Africa $2 billion a year. But it is on this very issue that the G8 is least likely to reach consensus on in Gleaneagles. While both the United States and the European Union have pledged to get rid of trade-distorting agricultural export subsidies, they remain far apart on how quickly they should be abolished.

Jacques Chirac in Gleneagles

President Jacques Chirac of France is welcomed by school children as he arrives in Scotland for the summit

Within the EU, Britain and France are bitterly at odds over the future of EU farm subsidies. Blair is pressing for their elimination and French President Jacques Chirac -- whose country is their largest EU beneficiary -- is putting up stiff resistance.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU did not want to single-handedly do away with the subsidies for Europe's farmers.

"We have offered to put an end to export subsidies for agriculture, we announced it in the WTO negotiations, hoping that others can follow," said Barroso. "Let's hope that others follow and they also put an end to any kind of export subsidies."

This is primarily a plea to the United States, which heavily subsidizes its cotton and sugar farming.

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