Sunday, March 05, 2006

Fly to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria

A French initative to finance health and development in low-income countries and help meet the Millenium Development Goals seems to have some legs: imposing taxes on airline tickets. Jacques Chirac had already introduced the idea at the 2005 World Economic Forum, but an international meeting in Paris last week saw 12 countries (including Britain) agree to the tax. The French parlement decided in January that what they call the 'solidarity tax' should come to 47 Euros (around $60) for every flight leaving French soil. The Congolese president Denis Sassou Nguesso takes the idea to a whole new level, calling for a health and development tax imposed on weapons of war and on international financial transactions. Now that's a thought.

Given that this is a French initative praised by the UN, that it involves raising taxes and solidarity for the poor, it should not come as a shock that the United States flatly rejects the proposal. And the basic argument against the proposal is predictable enough: imposing the taxes would not be in the interest of resource-poor countries. The editorial from the International Herald Tribune encapsulates this line of thought: the airline ticket tax would hurt developing countries dependent on income from tourism and air freight. It would be better, the editorial claims, to concentrate on 'proven strategies' to alleviate poverty and its impact on health, like lifting trade barriers and opening markets. But the airline ticket tax comes precisely out of frustration with decades of 'proven strategies' that coincide with a widening gap between the (health of the) rich and the (health of the) poor.