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Annan urges business to press ahead on new ideas

JOHANNESBURG, 2 September 2002 - Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General, vented his frustration with slow government decision-making at the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg by urging business to press ahead with development initiatives.

Mr Annan told delegates at the World Summit's showcase business day not to wait for governments to make decisions and laws to promote development in the world's poorest countries and environmental protection.

"The corporate sector need not wait for governments to take decisions," he said.

"We realise that only by mobilising the corporate sector that we can make significant progress."

Mr Annan warned that the yawning inequalities between the developed and developing worlds were "fundamentally unstable". He appealed to company executives not to allow extreme social differences to persist by investing in some of the world's least developed countries.

Companies have attended the Johannesburg World Summit in much greater numbers than the Rio Earth Summit 10 years ago. About 700 companies, including oil and mining companies, are represented at the summit. Business organisations, such as Paris-based Business Action for Sustainable Development, are showcasing development partnerships while lobbying against the imposition of multilateral rules to enforce greater corporate accountability - including labour and environmental standards - in the developing world.

Mr Annan's comments came as ministers prepared to work through the night to reach agreement on the summit text before the arrival of heads of state to address the conference today. Although the European Union has maintained a strong stance throughout the talks, it appeared likely it would climb down on some in the face of US opposition.

Its strongest demand remains agreeing a target on access to sanitation. There were suggestions that to achieve this, it might drop support for a Brazilian proposal for a new target for 10 per cent of energy production to come from non-hydro renewable sources. The prospect of such a trade-off caused concern to business and environmentalists. European oil companies such as BP and Shell have urged Tony Blair, British prime minister, to back the targets.

James Cameron, environmental lawyer at Baker & MacKenzie, the international law firm, said: "The EU must call the US bluff on this. There is plenty of support within the US business community for new targets on renewables. This is the sort of target which could have a profound effect on investment decisions. To trade off renewables for sanitation would be a sad state of affairs."

The only substantial agreements remain those to protect fish stocks in international waters and minimise the use of toxic chem-icals. However, an agreement on trade and finance over the extent to which World Trade Organisation rules support environmental objectives appeared close.

The heads of state who will address the summit today include Mr Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, and Chancellor Gerhard Schroder of Germany.

However, there is a chance they will be overshadowed by the appearance of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president, whose policies have been blamed for worsening the plight of 6m people who face starvation following the southern African drought.

read full-text of the speech by Kofi Annan