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Atal plea for free global trade

Evian, June 1: While Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was intervening in the “extended dialogue” between some of the world’s richest nations comprising the Group of Eight and developing countries, demonstrators were going on a rampage in the surrounding areas of this French spa town.

Thousands of black-hooded protesters agitating against globalisation blocked roads in Geneva and Lausanne in Switzerland and in Annemasse in France today. In Geneva, they also looted stores and attacked petrol stations. They were angry that they were unable to reach Evian either from France through neighbouring Annemasse or from Geneva and Lausanne across Lake Geneva.

A 15-km exclusion zone was maintained around Evian where the dialogue with developing countries was initiated over a working lunch.

Intervening during discussions, Vajpayee told the G8 leaders that unless concrete progress was made towards a global trade regime which promoted development, it would be impossible for the developing countries “to secure support for any further trade liberalisation”.

The G8 is a powerful though informal association of the world’s most developed Western countries — France, Germany, the US, Canada, Japan, Italy, Greece — and Russia. For the first time, at the initiative of French President Jacques Chirac, developing countries have been invited for a dialogue on the issues of their concern. The dialogue with the developing countries was held today — a day ahead of the G8 summit.

In his intervention, the Prime Minister made a strong case for reforming international trade. He wanted clear benchmarks from the G8 for progress on four fronts: elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to developing country exports; phasing out trade-distorting agricultural subsidies; removal of visa and non-visa obstructions on the free movement of service sector personnel; and broader access of developing countries to pharmaceuticals.

While he praised the G8’s Africa Action Plan for a new partnership in Africa’s development, Vajpayee wanted similar facilities to be extended to other similarly-placed developing countries. “Poverty, disease, malnutrition and hunger do not distinguish between continent, country, colour or creed,” he said.

The Prime Minister also argued for enhancing and widening the debt-forgiveness initiative for the highly indebted. This G8 initiative aims to restore the solvency of poor countries.

He also suggested a small levy on international capital flows to be used for development. An early ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, Vajpayee said, would lead to increased investment and technology flows from the North to the South in exchange for carbon credits (rich countries can pay for their carbon pollution by investing in green technologies in the developing world).

Vajpayee wanted the G8 to consider user fees to be paid to the developing countries for access to their biodiversity and acknowledgement of their traditional knowledge as intellectual property.

While the leaders of 12 developing countries were arguing their case for fairer trade relations during lunch with the G8 leaders, irate demonstrators who believed that this “selfish rich club” had done little to address the needs of the world’s poor were venting their frustration on the streets of France and Switzerland.

On the eve of the summit, Chirac said in an interview to the Financial Times that the overall aim of the G8 is “to shift the relationship with the South from one of aid and aid-dependency to one of real partnership.” The detractors of the G8, however, say the extended dialogue is nothing but an attempt to legitimise the globalisation process by seemingly taking the views of the developing countries on board.

Such has been the growing opposition to the G8’s globalisation agenda, that of late its annual summits are being held in almost inaccessible places. Two years ago, such was the scale of rioting at the G8 summit at the Italian port city of Genoa that a protester was shot dead by the police. Last year, the summit was held at a remote Canadian mountain resort.

Widespread rioting and clashes marked the arrival of the leaders of the world’s richest countries here. Thousands of demonstrators attempted to block the roads in Geneva and Lausanne expressing their anger against globalisation and what they call inhuman capitalism.

All the heads of state attending the G8 meeting had to fly by helicopters to Evian directly on landing at Geneva’s Cointrin airport. Lausanne, across the lake from Evian, is where Vajpayee and several other leaders from the developing countries are staying. Some demonstrators clashed with the police barely a few yards from Vajpayee’s hotel.

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