Envoy of 95 countries discuss proposed world poverty tax

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and dozens of government ministers were meeting today at a Paris conference to discuss France’s once-ridiculed call for an international tax to fight poverty and disease in the developing world.

Ministers and envoys from 95 countries were joining dozens of non-governmental groups at the two-day meeting, which also was to consider creating a new international fund to help buy Aids drugs for poor countries.

French President Jacques Chirac, with strong backing from Brazil, for the past four years has championed the idea aimed at paying for global efforts against poverty and disease in poor countries.

Hoping to lead by example, France is expected to put an international solidarity tax on airline tickets to fund the effort starting on July 1.

The plan, which is expected to raise about €200m a year, has drawn harsh criticism from airlines and tourism sectors.

Seventy-nine countries expressed support for the international tax proposal at the United Nations in September, but only one other country – Chile – has taken solid steps toward creating it. Britain has agreed to devote a portion of existing taxes collected on plane tickets to development funding. The United States opposes the idea.

French officials hope the conference will set in motion the plan, which faced international neglect – if not ridicule – just two years ago.

About 10 countries are expected to announce plans to adopt the tax at the Paris conference, though France is expected to remain the top contributor for the immediate future, Chirac’s office said.

France and Brazil are also expected to propose collection of funds for a new International Drug Purchase Facility, which targets the fight against Aids.

In a first phase, before the fund is created, money would be earmarked to buy anti-retroviral drugs – notably cheaper generics – pharmaceutical makers in bulk and over long-term contracts, as a way to help lower the market price.

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