France plans to launch a "solidarity tax" on airline tickets as early as next year to help fund the global fight against poverty, President Jacques Chirac said on Monday.
Saying he wanted his country to be "in the forefront" of efforts to boost aid to Africa, the French president -- eager not to be outshone in the aid stakes by British Prime Minister Tony Blair's recent drive for the continent -- said he had asked the government "to start the necessary procedures without waiting."
Chirac, who last month wrote to 145 world leaders seeking their support for the scheme, said in a speech to the annual meeting of France's ambassadors in Paris that Germany, Algeria, Brazil, Chile and Spain would help promote the idea at a UN summit in September.
An international ministerial conference on the theme will be held in Paris next February, he added.
Last January, when Chirac formally floated the scheme at the World Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he said a tax of just a few dollars on every airline ticket sold could raise up to US$10 billion a year to finance campaigns against diseases in Africa, notably AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. G8 rich nations promised last June that it would look into the project, but some countries are keener than others. A number of EU member states, including Greece and Ireland, reject the idea, while the US has said it will not stand in the way of other countries.
Britain, which is pressing hard for an international finance facility, a means of doubling aid flows by floating bonds on financial markets, initially responded coolly to Chirac's airline tax plan this year but has since stressed that the two schemes are not mutually exclusive.
France's finance minister, Thierry Breton, outlined the solidarity tax to a UN meeting in June, saying that, with world air traffic growing at an average 9 percent every year since 1960, it was "one of the most promising solutions for developing countries and for the international architecture of aid."
Breton said airline tickets were an appropriate commodity to tax because airlines benefit from globalization and pay low taxes, their passengers "are rarely among the poorest citizens," and such a levy has been proved feasible both practically and legally.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who set the UN's target of halving extreme poverty by 2015, said last month he supported the airline tax plan and that the idea "seems to be taking hold."
Along with several other leaders, Chirac has repeatedly said budgetary increases alone will not finance the extra US$50 billion needed to meet the UN's Millennium Development goals on poverty, health and education, and that additional innovative solutions were needed. French authorities estimate a tax of about 5 euros (US$6) per passenger worldwide, with a 20 euro surcharge for business class travellers, would generate revenues of about US$12 billion a year. The contribution could be reduced in poorer countries so as not to penalize passengers there.