International Debt Campaigners Vow

Agence France Presse
March 29, 2000

Tokyo - Campaigners on Wednesday vowed to hold vocal protests at this summer's Group of Eight summit in Japan in their drive to get the poorest nations' debt cancelled. But there would be no repeat of last November's Seattle fiasco, when "a small number of anarchists" hijacked protests against a World Trade Organisation meeting, said Jubilee 2000 director Ann Pettifor. "It will be angry, but it will be peaceful," Pettifor told a briefing at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.

Leaders of the Group of Seven nations -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States -- convene with their Russian counterparts for an annual get-together on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa in July. Briton Pettifor, whose non-governmental organisation is leading a global campaign to cancel the debt of the 41 poorest nations, and Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs called on Japan as host of July's summit to lead the way.

They said a human chain of some 50,000 protestors at a G7 summit in Cologne last June had been instrumental in leading to an expanded, accelerated G7 initiative to provide Third World debt relief. "We're asking Japan to take an enlightened approach to that, and to give these poor countries a fresh start," said Pettifor. The "Okinawa summit could be a breakthrough" but there were still major obstacles, not least resistance to full debt relief among officials at the International Monetary Fund, Sachs told the briefing.

The United States, Britain, Canada and Italy promised to cancel all the debt owed them by the 41 "heavily indebted poor countries" following the Cologne summit. "Unfortunately since then only three countries have benefited and a very small portion of the debt has been cancelled," said Pettifor, ahead of talks Wednesday between Jubilee 2000 and the Japanese finance ministry.

"This is largely because of resistance from the IMF and the World Bank in Washington, who are increasing the number of hurdles that poor countries have to jump before they get debt cancellation." Sachs, a noted critic of IMF strictures to East Asian countries beset by financial crisis in 1997, was scathing about the fund's role in the debt-relief debate. He highlighted Nigeria, which he said had to pay 1.5 billion dollars in debt servicing this year but which could "only afford 360 million dollars in healthcare spending."

"So here's a country where millions of people are sick or dying, and we're asking for approximately five times more in the debt service than in the health spending." This was "morally untenable, it's a shame on all of us in the rich world," the Harvard professor said. "Clearly it's economically untenable, because you could send another 100 missions of the IMF and the World Bank to Nigeria, but if there isn't healthcare, there's no way to achieve stability or economic development."

Pettifor said there would be more human-chain protests at Okinawa and at next month's semi-annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington. She praised the role of Japan, the world's biggest creditor nation, in helping to fund poor nations' development. "Where we are disappointed is that Japan's role on debt cancellation is in our view inappropriate," she said, citing conditions attached which sometimes forced recipient nations to buy Japanese goods in return for aid.

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