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Finance Summit Ends on a Mutual Note of Restraint

Meetings: Activists are unusually tame, while global monetary leaders decline to offer immediate aid to poor countries.

April 22, 2002|WARREN VIETH and MEGAN GARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Global finance leaders concluded a weekend summit Sunday by pressing wealthy nations to broaden their commitment to ending world poverty, while anti-globalization activists wound down two days of uncharacteristically orderly demonstrations.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund ended their spring meetings by launching a campaign to send every child to primary school and calling on the industrialized world to tear down trade barriers that keep poor countries poor.

But they declined to provide immediate financial relief for bankrupt Argentina, and they left unresolved a standoff over a U.S. proposal to replace Third World loans with grants.

The nation's capital remained calm despite a proliferation of protest causes and events. Some demonstrators marched on behalf of Palestinians, some rallied to oppose U.S. policy in Colombia, and some assembled outside IMF and World Bank headquarters to denounce the forces of globalization.

District of Columbia police reported no protest-related arrests Sunday. The day before, when all 3,600 officers were placed on active duty while tens of thousands of activists took part in a multi-themed march, a few dozen demonstrators were apprehended.

It was a far cry from the scene two years ago, when nearly 1,300 protesters were arrested here during the spring meetings of the World Bank and the IMF. Similar gatherings in other cities around the world have led to violent clashes between protesters and police.

At the conclusion of Sunday's session, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn expressed gratitude that this year's anti-globalization activists were smaller in number and less inclined to confrontation than their predecessors. "That was a welcome relief to us," he said.

Wolfensohn said he had met over the weekend with representatives of organizations that oppose some World Bank policies, and he acknowledged that their criticism has influenced bank policy. "I think that's not a bad thing that there's an outside group that is constantly watching, constantly pushing," he said. "They do have an effect."

Inside the adjacent buildings that house the sister financial institutions, participants in this year's sessions discussed emerging evidence of a global economic recovery, debated their response to the financial meltdown in Argentina and sought new strategies for stimulating growth in the world's poorest countries.

The World Bank's Development Committee announced an initiative intended to ensure that all children be enrolled in primary school by 2015. An estimated 125 million children around the world currently receive no schooling, bank officials said.

The education campaign, which would require up to $5 billion in outside financing, would begin with a "fast-track" demonstration program in 10 poor countries.

The policy-making panel called on the United States and other industrial nations to reduce tariffs on agricultural products and other exports from the developing world and to eliminate farm subsidies that encourage overproduction and drive down world commodity prices. Agricultural subsidies now exceed $300 billion a year, or roughly six times the amount of development aid that rich countries provide to the Third World.

"It is not enough" to provide more financial aid to encourage development in poor countries without addressing trade policies that have the opposite effect, the committee said in its final communique.

The global leaders left Washington without resolving an impasse over the form future development assistance should take. U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill lobbied his counterparts to reduce the amount of money provided to poor countries in the form of low-interest loans and to increase the amount provided through grants, which do not have to be repaid.

But foreign leaders and World Bank officials have been leery of the U.S. proposal, citing concerns that it could undermine aid programs by reducing the stream of debt repayments used to finance additional development. Until the matter is settled, no action can be taken on a World Bank request for $12 billion in immediate funding to replenish the development account.

"It's not being resolved here," British development minister Clare Short acknowledged at the conclusion of Sunday's meetings.

Outside, cold rain thinned the number of people attending Sunday's protest events.

At a festival held near the Washington Monument to protest U.S. policy in Colombia, activists took cover under trees or umbrellas as speakers urged them to help shut down a facility at Ft. Benning, Ga., where Latin American military personnel have received training from their U.S. counterparts.

Nate Clark said he and his wife traveled from Cleveland by bus with a group of peace activists because they believed it was important for their 8-year-old son to see the movement at work.

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