TCS Daily

Evian Watershed

By Craig Winneker - June 4, 2003 12:00 AM

EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France - G8 summits are usually to be found atop mountains of paper, and the one held this week in the French Alps was no exception. Leaders of the world's biggest economic powers meeting in the spa town of Evian issued dozens of communiqués - most of which say very little - and say it very generally.

However, buried deep in the political rhetoric and considerable pandering were some small, but perhaps significant, victories in the effort to use technology to boost economic growth, increase productivity and eradicate world hunger.

US President George W. Bush was already well on his way to Egypt on Monday evening when the remaining 7 Gs issued their communiqués on "Action Against Famine, Especially in Africa" and "Science and Technology for Sustainable Development". But he can take some comfort in the knowledge that his mark was left - ever so subtly - on these statements.

As part of their discussion on an action plan to fight hunger, especially in Africa, the summiteers agreed to fight "long-term food insecurity" by fostering efforts to boost agricultural production. "We will encourage improved scientific resources and adaptation of new and improved agricultural technologies including tried and tested biotechnology for use in developing countries," the G8 leaders pledged.

This is a victory - if only a semantic one - for Bush, who had come under fire before the summit began for his demands that Europe lift its moratorium on new GM approvals. On the eve of the gathering, in a major address in Krakow, Poland, Bush renewed his call for European leaders to "reconsider policies that discourage farmers in developing countries from using safe biotechnology to feed their own people."

Meanwhile, in Evian, environmental activists and anti-globalization campaigners roamed the press room with news releases blasting the White House for "playing politics with hunger" - even though that accusation would be more accurately targeted at European leaders pandering to irrational public fears. But by the summit's end, these groups were too busy lamenting the G8's almost total lack of action on their laundry list of issues -access to medicines and elimination of Third World debt, etc. - to notice the glancing reference to GMOs.

And there were more than one of them. Because in their separate statement on science and technology G8 leaders also highlighted - ever so delicately - the role that biotechnology can play in feeding the world and boosting sustainable development. They promised to "help developing countries improve their agricultural productivity in a sustainable manner."

This, they said, includes efforts to "promote sustainable agricultural technologies and practices, including the safe use of biotechnologies among interested countries, that contribute to preventing famine, enhancing nutrition, improving productivity, conserving water and other natural resources, reducing the application of chemicals, improving human health and preserving biodiversity."

As the French would say, Sacre bleu! True, there were several escape-hatch phrases used - "tried and tested" and "among interested countries" - but the fact that the language was included in the statements at all is a positive sign.

Unfortunately, the G8 has a poor record of acting on its promises (in some cases, this is more a blessing than a curse). So it will be up to President Bush to keep building on the message, and up to the World Trade Organization to act against the European Union's moratorium. G8 summits may be little more than photo-ops and talking-shops, but the crisis in Africa demands real action - not just paper promises.

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