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Don't let terrorism derail the G7's planned agenda

Financial Post, Daily edition, Fri 28 Jun 96

No clear thinking person would deny that combating terrorism is a very worthwhile cause for world leaders to support. And it is only natural for civilized people to sympathize with the United States, which is mourning the recent deaths of 19 U.S. Air Force personnel in a barbaric terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia.

But President Bill Clinton's desire to make terrorism the top priority of the G7 summit, which will wrap up Saturday in Lyons, is a mistake. In the wake of the bombing, Clinton said he expects "very practical results" in terms of proposals to fight terrorism. He stressed that eradicating this scourge "is one of the most important challenges our country faces at the end of this century."

That is no doubt true; however, there is a host of other serious challenges that G7 leaders are to discuss in France. It would be folly to jettison this agenda in order to devote the summit to palaver on terrorism. The French hosts are anxious to explore ways to reduce the debts of the world's poorest countries. The poorest, most-indebted nations are under water by about $200 billion to industrialized countries and don't have a hope in repaying their loans anytime soon -- if ever. Aid organizations say the predicament is so critical in some nations that more than half of international aid is sent back to the developed world by way of payment of interest and principle on debt. The heads of the globe's most important development agencies -- the World Bank, International Monetary Fund -- as well as the World Trade Organization, are on hand to participate in the talks.

There is also the important matter of the Helms-Burton legislation passed by the U.S. Congress, which is intended to put new pressure on Cuba's Communist regime of Fidel Castro. This nasty bill allows U.S. companies to sue foreign firms if they traffic in, or profit from, Cuban property expropriated from U.S. interests after the 1959 revolution. Prime Minister Jean Chretien, as well as European leaders, are alarmed at the extraterritorial nature of the U.S. law, and plan to raise the matter with President Clinton. Canada has already unveiled retaliatory measures for Helms-Burton.

This G7 summit is also important "in setting the direction for the critical first ministerial meeting of the [WTO], being held in Singapore in December," notes John Kirton, a University of Toronto political science professor and a summitry expert. Canadian business leaders have urged the prime minister to persuade his colleagues to push for further tariff reduction and for the modernization of customs procedures, which are seen as impediments to trade.

There's all that to talk about -- and more. The leaders should stick to the course, which has been carefully set in numerous preparatory meetings. Continued progress in overall trade liberalization, as well as debt relief for poor nations, depends on strong political support from the world's most powerful nations.

This information is provided by the Financial Post.

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