Air ticket tax to fight AIDS – Jacques Chirac

President Jacques Chirac urged rich states on Tuesday to follow France’s lead and adopt a one-euro levy on plane tickets to help poor countries buy drugs they need to fight AIDS and other killer diseases.Chirac said the surcharge would help spread the benefits of globalization to people living on less than a euro a day, a level of poverty that prevents those hardest hit by malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis from receiving treatment.

At the start of the two-day international conference on finding new ways to fund development, Britain and France announced a joint study on funding education and health through the airline ticket levy, a decision welcomed by some aid groups.

Chirac, who championed the levy in the face of widespread initial skepticism and opposition from airline companies, praised developing countries that were considering imposing a similar charge.

“I call on all nations represented here today in Paris, first and foremost OECD and European Union countries, to support them in this forward-looking undertaking,” Chirac said in an opening ceremony at his official Elysee Palace residence.

From July 1, a French law will levy one euro on domestic and European flights and 4 euros on long-haul flights. Business and first class travelers will be charged an extra 10 euros, rising to 40 euros on international flights.

Airlines already concerned about spiraling fuel costs have been wary of the idea, which has run into opposition from the United States and EU tourist destinations like Italy and Greece.

The French levy, expected to raise 200 million euros ($238 million) in a full year, will be held by the French development agency pending agreement on how to dole out the funds.

PIONEER GROUP

Officials said they hoped a pioneer group of around a dozen states would sign up to the scheme by the end of the conference and work out a drugs purchasing mechanism for countries in need.

Chirac proposed an international drug purchase facility, which French officials say would provide stable, long-term funding for anti-retroviral drugs used to fight the HIV virus.

Officials said details of how the system would work remain to be thrashed out but they hope that it will eventually encourage pharmaceutical firms and makers of generic drugs to increase production, stimulate competition and so lower prices. U.N. estimates say some $200 billion a year will be needed in official development aid by 2015 to meet the so-called Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of halving world poverty.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan told the conference that the air travel levy must be used to provide extra funds and not replace money from state budgets.

“It would be too optimistic to think that innovative sources of financing alone will generate enough funding to reach the MDGs,” Annan said.

“And even if we reach the goals, there would still be a vast backlog of human deprivation, and we would need a longer-term strategy for financing the complete eradication of poverty.”

He urged states to join France in the international drug purchase facility, an agreement on which he hoped could be won by the end of May when the United Nations General Assembly meets on the HIV/AIDS fight.

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