Blair calls for open markets

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged rich nations to open up their markets to the developing world — especially for agricultural products.

He made the call on Monday before assembled world leaders at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, at the same time announcing that Britain would increase its development aid to Africa to UK1-billion a year by 2006.

”This is not charity. It is an investment in our collective future,” he said.

Subsidies enjoyed by farmers in the United States and the European Union in particular have been cited as a major obstacle to market access for developing countries, and have been a point of contention at the summit.

Blair’s call was echoed by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who said in a speech immediately after his British counterpart that the developing world would not be able to eliminate poverty without broader access to world markets.

He announced that as from January 1 next year, Canada would abolish tariffs and quotas for almost all products from least-developed countries.

Agricultural subsidies were a major problem. Their elimination should be made a top priority ”and it is very urgent”, he said.

He also said Canada was finalising a plan of action for implementing the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gases, and the Canadian parliament would be asked to ratify the accord.

Blair said Britain was proud that it would meet and exceed its Kyoto targets.

”Kyoto is right and it should be ratified by all of us,” he said to applause.

However Kyoto only slowed the present rate of damage, and to reverse it, pollution levels had to be reduced dramatically.

He said the issues facing the summit and the world were difficult to deal with, but the consequences of inaction were not unknown.

”Poverty and environmental degradation if unchecked could spell catastrophe for our world,” Blair said.

”This summit can and will make our world change for the better.”

In the meantime, Namibian president Sam Nujoma fired a broadside at Blair, blaming him for creating the land crisis in Zimbabwe.

Nujoma singled out Blair — who was present among the heads of state listening to him — and criticised the British leader for pursuing sanctions against Zimbabwe.

He said Blair, together with the United States and the European Union, had ”campaigned” for the sanctions, and called for these to be lifted immediately.

Nujoma also lashed out at British residents in Zimbabwe.

”The land is colonised by more than 100 000 British colonists,” he said.

They owned 78% of the land in Zimbabwe.

”Don’t come here and tell us things are not right,” Nujoma warned, apparently referring to Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe’s policy of dispossessing white farmers in that country.

Referring to the slave trade of past centuries, Nujoma said African people were the ”underdogs of the world”.

”We, the African people, have suffered more than anyone in the world,” he said.

Following Nujoma at the lectern, Lesotho’s prime minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, struck a more even tone.

He said the past decade had been characterised by a growing recognition that democracy, respect for human life and the rule of law was essential for sustainable development.

Developing countries continued to experience increasing levels of poverty, which was exacerbated by HIV and Aids, Mosisili said. – Sapa

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Ben Maclennan
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