Chirac dents Blair's hopes for unified drive against poverty

Calls by Tony Blair for a unified international approach to African poverty and climate change were put in jeopardy last night by proposals from France for a wide-ranging series of international taxes to finance a doubling of the global aid budget.

In a speech to the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, Mr Blair said it was essential that Britain used its leadership of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nations this year to cement a unified approach. The danger was that countries would instead opt for a fragmented approach, resulting in rivalry and conflict. Mr Blair concluded his speech by insisting the big question for the G8 was "whether the hopes of the people are matched by the will of their leaders".

Jacques Chirac put France on a potential collision course with the US by proposing international taxes on greenhouse emissions, aeroplane tickets, weapon sales, multinationals, credit card transactions, and international flows of capital. The French President, who is unable to attend the conference, made his remarks earlier in the day from Paris via satellite link.

Britain's position on the Chirac proposals is a more nuanced one. It supports anything that might bring about a doubling in the aid budget but is concerned about the practicalities of an international tax, particularly if it is opposed by the White House.

The imposition of a global levy on international financial transactions - or Tobin tax - has long been a feature of French policy. But M. Chirac went further than any previous proposal with yesterday's demands. He also said he would put the proposals high on the agenda at the G8 summit at Gleneagles in July, in what looks like an attempt to seize the initiative in the fight against poverty. Mr Blair has made achieving a consensus on measures to combat climate change and African poverty his two main goals for chairmanship of the G8.

M. Chirac insisted that France supported the British initiative through the proposed International Finance Facility to increase the size of the global aid budget, but suggested that it did not go far enough. How to reimburse the loans raised under the International Finance Facility without putting strain on existing aid budgets was one problem the plan failed to address, he said.

Embarrassingly for Mr Blair, Britain will be condemned tomorrow as one of the most environmentally unfriendly countries in the world in a new environmental audit. The UK is ranked 66th out of 146 nations in the latest Environmental Sustainability Index.

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