DAVOS, Switzerland : In successive appeals to some of the world’s business and political elites, Britain’s Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac of France called for a concerted international effort to stem the twin ravages of disease and poverty hobbling the poorest nations.
President Chirac pressed for an international tax to help finance the fight against AIDS, saying a levy for instance on certain financial transactions or airline tickets, could raise billions of dollars a year.
Prime Minister Blair, opening the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos, pledged to champion the drive against climate change and poverty.
They were speaking on the first day of the annual meeting here that brings together 2,250 people to the snow-covered ski resort nestled in the Swiss Alps to ponder the world’s most pressing problems.
Adding to what organisers here say is a mood shift in the corporate world, participants cast aside the global economy and trade to vote for poverty and equitable globalisation as the issues leaders should tackle most urgently.
Citing the response to the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, Chirac told the meeting via a video link — poor weather prevented him flying here — that at least 10 billion dollars (7.7 billion euros) a year was needed for the fight against AIDS, against six billion dollars annually at present.
“We are failing in the face of this terrible pandemic,” he said.
He proposed options including: a “contribution” on international financial transactions, a tax on aviation and maritime fuel, a levy on capital movements in or out of countries that practised banking secrecy, or a “small” surcharge such as a dollar on the three billion airline tickets sold every year.
“What is striking about these examples,” Chirac said, “is the disproportion between the modest efforts required and the benefits everyone would reap from them.”
Blair said he would press poverty and climate change during his presidency of the G8 group of leading industrial countries this year and of the European Union in the latter six months.
On climate change, he put the emphasis on harnessing science and technology to cut harmful greenhouse gas emissions thought to trigger climate change.
While acknowledging a divide over the causes of global warming, an allusion to US doubts, he said the G8 had to send a “clear signal” of unity in cutting emissions.
“Business and the global economy need to know that this isn’t an issue that will go away,” he added.
On Africa, Blair said the G8 would work with African nations to build good governance and root out corruption. At the same time, trade reform must enable them to sell their produce at fair prices.
Other key themes at the forum, which runs to Sunday, range from the Middle East and China’s growing clout to ethical dilemmas caused by globalisation.
This year’s gathering clashes with the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, a conference of greens, economists, libertarians and union activists, often at odds with the free-market approach generally favoured here.
The Davos A-list is due to include new stars such as President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine, while Executive Vice Premier Huang Ju will symbolise China’s growing global presence.
Palestinian premier Mahmud Abbas is also due to attend, say organisers, but it is uncertain if he will actually come. The US presence is low key, with trade representative Robert Zoellick the main figure.
On the name-spotting front, though, are actors Sharon Stone, Angelina Jolie and Richard Gere and Irish rock star Bono — here to push for debt relief and poverty reduction — and fellow musicians Lionel Richie and Youssou N’Dour.
Channel News Asia