June 17, 2005 : THE AGENDA BEHIND THE G7 DEBT RELIEF

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What do you get when you put seven of the world's most powerful men in a room together to talk about extending corporate rule? An outpouring of news stories about saving Africa, of course.

The recent statement that was released on June 10th, following the G7 finance ministers' meeting, has been generally received by the UK media as heralding some kind of new dawn for poor countries. Taking a closer look, however, reveals the statement to be very much about the breaking down of barriers to 'free' trade and corporate control of countries' services and resources – or 'the elimination of impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign', as the ministerial statement put it. The writing off of debt, which occupied so many front pages, is itself hedged around with similar conditions and requests before countries will be allowed to benefit – it is linked to the HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) initiative, a form of debt relief that has been tied to IMF and World Bank controlled privatisation schemes . The G7 statement makes it clear that only those countries that are 'on track with their programmes of repayment obligations and adjusting their gross assistance flows by the amount forgiven' will be covered by the write-off; in other words, only those countries that have adjusted their economies in favour of repayment. What is more, any further grants of aid are conditional on countries' movement towards 'good governance, accountability and transparency'. The World Bank, under Iraq war architect Paul Wolfowitz, will decide what amounts to 'good governance'.

This kind of sleight of hand – to control through the appearance of altruism – is only possible under a modern democracy, with a media so well trained in self-censorship that it can be trusted not to poke around in the more unpleasant corners of such statements. From the Observer's '$55bn Africa debt deal “a victory for millions”', to the Sunday Times''African debt billions cancelled', via the statement by the Financial Times that 'The campaign for debt relief is on the verge of its next big victory', there was a clear media focus on the finance ministers' supposed debt generosity. A non political explanation may be that many journalists simply did not understand the ministerial meeting or the statement that came out of it. Constant references were made to the 'G8 debt deal' or even the 'G8 finance ministers'. In truth there were only seven ministers at that meeting. Russia, although allowed into aspects of the G8 summit in view of its large reserves of oil, gas and nuclear weapons, is not considered to be an important enough player, economically speaking, to come to G7 finance meetings. With the honourable exceptions of George Monbiot in The Guardian and Sanjay Suriof Inter Press News Agency , their G7 seems to have benefitted from a media whitewash.

Certain pop stars were happy to add to the false impression. Both Bono and Geldof made a judicious demonstration of the power of celebrity praise, by hailing the move as a good start, and part of the road to realising their vision of a world free from poverty. However, both also made clear references to the importance of the neo-liberal agenda. Bono called on other poor countries to meet the economic conditions that had led to the HIPC countries being relieved of debt: 'If the other countries are prepared to do the same, they will also benefit' . Bob Geldof apparently called for the 'complete package demanded by the Commission on Africa'. This commission, of which Geldof is a member, has produced a report that, as well as recommending a greater flow of aid, also pushes for the lowering of trade barriers in African countries and the implementation of the World Trade Organisation's Doha Round. The dressing up of World Trade Organisation measures under the cloak of humanitarianism and international aid is perhaps the most successful aspect of the G8 summit's spin offensive.

Read the G7 statement for yourself at: www.g8.utoronto.ca/finance/fm050611_dev.htm