updated 4/25/2004 12:53:50 PM ET 2004-04-25T16:53:50

The world is poised for strong economic growth this year and next, the world’s major industrial nations concluded at a weekend meeting, even though there are concerns about high oil prices and continuing unrest in the Middle East.

Finance ministers and central bankers were wrapping up three days of talks Sunday with a meeting of the World Bank’s policy-setting committee on how to help developing countries improve living standards for poor people.

World Bank President James Wolfensohn said there is a reasonable chance the international community will achieve the first of a series of ambitious objectives, halving global poverty by 2015, “but that’s because of the remarkable progress in India and China,” whose economies have been soaring.

To achieve progress on the other development goals including universal primary education, Wolfensohn said Sunday that rich countries needed to understand that “now is the moment of truth” for them to come forward with increased funding commitments.

Wolfensohn said the world spends $900 billion annually on the military and rich countries spend $300 billion on subsidies for their farmers while providing less than $60 billion on foreign aid.

“This imbalance is so obviously ludicrous,” he said. “We need to focus on the causes of conflict and the causes of instability.”

Critics lash out at World Bank, IMF
Critics of the 184-nation World Bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, such as Oxfam, the international relief agency, said rich countries are failing the poor. It has urged these countries to urgently increase debt relief and boost aid funding so developing countries can reach the millennium objectives.

“The United States, Italy and Japan are the key culprits in failing to provide their share of the money needed to reach the millennium goals,” said Max Lawson, an Oxfam spokesman.

To have a reasonable chance of reaching the millennium goals, experts estimate that foreign aid to developing countries, currently running at $50 billion a year, needs to be increased to $100 billion.

A peaceful crowd of about 1,000 anti-globalization demonstrators marched through 15 blocks of downtown Washington on Saturday to protest the policies of the World Bank and the IMF, which they say favor wealthy nations at the expense of the world’s poorest countries.

Growth forecast
This year’s meetings were being held against the backdrop of a global economy that the IMF is forecasting will grow at a 4.6 percent clip this year and 4.4 percent next year, the fastest back-to-back growth years in a decade.

However, the IMF also cautioned that this bright prospect could be derailed if oil prices go up more or if the unstable security situation in the Middle East begins to weaken consumer and business confidence and rattle global financial markets.

At their meeting on Saturday, members of the Group of Seven major industrial countries pledged economic support to rebuild the war-ravaged economies of Iraq and Afghanistan and the Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza.

The G-7 nations — the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada — struck an optimistic tone in a joint communique issued as part of a weekend of financial discussions centered around the spring meetings of the World Bank and IMF.

U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow, who led the discussions along with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, said there was a feeling of shared optimism in the group, reflecting a belief that strong growth in the United States, powered by President Bush’s tax cuts, as helping to boost the global economy.

In their communique, the G-7 ministers said that prospects for the global economy were favorable. “Although risks remain, such as energy prices, overall the balance of risks to the outlook has improved,” it said.

Jean-Claude Trichet, the head of the European Central Bank, said he had pushed to include a reference to the threat of higher energy prices as a way for the G-7 to take a “high level of responsibility” for trying to restrain those increases.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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