G-8 summit opens with spotlight on Africa

By Malcolm Foster

RUSUTSU, Japan – Aid for Africa – and whether enough was coming from the world’s major economic powers – was in the spotlight Monday as the Group of Eight nations met with seven African leaders at its annual summit.

Activists have accused some G-8 countries, particularly France, Canada and Italy, of skimping on aid to Africa, and urged them to ramp up their contributions. The U.S., Japan, Britain, Germany and Russia make up the other members of the G-8.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel also has urged G-8 leaders to take a tough stance on Zimbabwe in the wake of President Robert Mugabe’s widely denounced election win. Mugabe was the only candidate in the presidential runoff after his opponent dropped out amid reports of state-sponsored violence.

President Bush, arriving Sunday for his eighth and final Group of Eight summit, emphasized the urgency of providing aid for Africa, calling on wealthy nations to provide mosquito nets and other aid to prevent children from “needlessly dying from mosquito bites.”

“Now is the time for the comfortable nations to step up and do something about it,” Bush said.

African aid was the centerpiece of the G-8 summit three years ago in Gleneagles, Scotland, where leaders pledged to increase foreign aid by $50 billion a year by 2010 – with half of that going directly to Africa – and to cancel the debt of the most heavily indebted poor nations.

Collectively, the G-8 has delivered just $3 billion of the $25 billion in additional aid pledged to Africa in 2005, according to DATA, which stands for Debt, AIDS and Trade in Africa, a group founded by U2 singer Bono and music producer Bob Geldof, both of whom are active in campaigns for Africa.

Germany, the U.S. and Britain were following through on commitments, while progress from Japan, France, Italy and Canada was either unclear or weak, DATA said.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported in April that foreign aid by major donor countries slumped in 2007 as debt-relief plans tapered off and amid a global economic downturn in Japan and some other rich nations.

Japan said there has been no backtracking on the commitments made to Africa.

“I don’t understand the criticism,” said Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kazuo Kodama. “The G-8 leaders are very aware of the commitments they have made to African leaders.”

Soaring food prices was another key topic on the agenda at the summit, with some experts predicting that the leaders would announce a food aid package and possibly funds to invest in agricultural development in poorer nations.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso proposed Monday spending $1.6 billion that had been set aside for European farm subsidies to support agriculture in the developing world over the next two years.

Talks were expected to shift Tuesday and Wednesday to climate change as leaders will try to move forward U.N.-led talks aimed at forging a new global warming accord by the end of 2009. The negotiations have stalled because of deep disagreements over what targets to set for greenhouse gas reductions, and how much developing countries such as China and India should be required to participate.

The rift over climate change widened as the head of the European Commission urged leaders of the world’s wealthy nations to act first in setting targets for reducing greenhouse gases – putting President Bush in an increasingly lonely position.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the G-8 nations must reach agreement among themselves on climate change measures and avoid taking the approach that “I will do nothing unless you do it first,” which he called a “vicious circle.”

“If we agree, then we are in a much better position to discuss with our Chinese and Indian partners and others,” Barroso said.

The U.N. and World Bank chiefs said top industrialized nations need to push forward global talks on climate change and demonstrate their commitment to help poorer nations grapple with rising food prices.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Robert Zoellick said rich nations need to strengthen their efforts to meet poverty reduction, education and other development goals because of instability in the world economy.

China and India say it is up to the developed world – the biggest polluters – to take the lead in the fight against climate change. Bush says no, developing nations must also sign on to make any global deal work.

It was unclear whether nations would be able to agree to a goal of cutting their emissions by 50 percent by 2050. The Bush administration has not shown any enthusiasm for such a commitment without cooperation from the Chinese and Indians.

A more ambitious goal of setting nearer-term targets for 2020 was considered well beyond reach.

Going into a G-8 summit – after a separate summit Tuesday with India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico – China has said it is ready to discuss setting medium- and long-term goals for reducing emissions of polluting gases and is open to negotiating targets.

But Beijing has not changed its view that the main responsibility still lies with developed countries. India has vowed to keep its emissions below those of developed countries, but is also looking for them to set the pace.

Associated Press writers Joseph Coleman and Eric Talmadge contributed to this report