Third World attacks failure of Evian to tackle its problems

In an attempt to present a united front, contentious issues were avoided in 'least substantive" meeting to date

The G8 summit of the world's richest countries ended yesterday with a ringing cry of economic confidence and the generation of more statements than ever before.

But pressure groups for the Third World complained - and officials close to the summit admitted - that this had been a choreographed summit of fixed smiles that evaded all the most contentious issues, from the plunge of the dollar to the explosion of Aids in Africa.

Unlike many previous G8 summits, there were no splits or squabbles. But there also seems to have been little attempt to narrow differences, and therefore no opportunity for argument. The main concern had been to present a united front, which would persuade markets and investors that the arguments over the Iraq war had ended and that they could look forward to modest growth in the world economy.

Whether the outcome justified a three-day summit, with 20 world leaders, 5,000 officials, 2,500 journalists, 20,000 police and soldiers, 100,000 protesters (kept at a safe distance) and 100 warplanes patrolling overhead, at a total estimated cost of €200m (£144m), is open to question.

Aid agencies and Third World pressure groups complained that the annual G8 summits had degenerated into "expensive talking shops".

Officials admitted that this was probably the "least substantive" of the world economic summits since they started in 1975, but added that the proof of the meeting's value would be in the reaction of markets and leading economies.

They said that discussion of the most contentious issues - from transatlantic trade disputes to the value of the dollar, to access to cheaper medicine for the Third World - had been kept at a general level to avoid headlines about "summit splits", which could destabilise the world economy.

It had been agreed from the start, they said, that the summiteers would join ranks to project confidence and unity.

The final summit declaration, presented by the host, the French President, Jacques Chirac, said that the "conditions" for an economic "recovery are now in place".

M. Chirac, in his final press conference, was even more effusive. The Iraq unpleasantness was over; oil prices were down; interest rates were low and likely to get lower.

The world's leading democracies were agreed that the future was bright, he said. They were ready to work together once more to ensure economic stability. Everyone should have the confidence to go out and spend. Asked why the summit declaration made no mention of the plunge in the value of the dollar, which is hampering economic recovery in Japan and Europe, M. Chirac said that the issue had indeed been discussed. "Every one of us agrees that the stability of currencies is very much needed to encourage growth," he said.

The summit put out more than a score of statements on various issues, including clean water, illegal logging, and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Aid agencies and pressure groups said when it came to the Third World issues that France had originally placed at the heart of the summit, the Evian gathering had merely repeated, or even diluted, commitments given at previous summits.

Nathan Ford, medical director for the humanitarian aid organisation Médécins sans Frontières in the UK, said that the Okinawa summit in 2000 had made great progress in the area of access to cheap, generic medicines for poorer countries to fight Aids and other diseases. Three years later, those promises were mostly unfulfilled. He said the problem with G8 summits was that they were "unaccountable" inter-governmental meetings with no institutional or legal substance to help to ensure that decisions were carried out.

One senior government official, asked to list Evian's achievements, pointed to the US promise (pre-Evian) to give $15bn (£9.2bn) to fight Aids in poor countries over five years; the European promises (at Evian) to match that figure; and new declarations on the fight against terrorism and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. He also said that the positive meeting between President Chirac and President George Bush should help to clear away some of the poisonous clouds lingering from the Iraq crisis.

The trouble with G8 summits, the senior official said, was that they had swollen to such a grand scale that "modest but real achievements" seemed inadequate.

WHAT WAS ACHIEVED?

G8 SUCCESSES

* US to give £9bn over five years to fight Aids in the developing world.

* Europe to try to match this figure.

* New US-inspired commitment to fight nuclear proliferation.

* A positive declaration on the economy - "Conditions for a recovery are in place."

* New counter-terrorism action group formed.

G8 FAILURES

* No serious consideration of plunge of dollar.

* No progress on trade argument.

* No real progress on relieving debt of poorest countries.

* No real progress on cheaper medicines for developing world.

* No real progress on improving water supplies in developing world.

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