Group of Eight, a sideshow without rising stars

Updated: 2010-06-25 11:19
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Political scientists are divided over the significance of the Group of Eight (G-8) as the heads of state from the world's richest industrial nations prepare to meet Friday and Saturday in the Canadian province of Ontario.

Some say the body is relevant and will continue to be important for "advancing a broader agenda." Others feel the true power is within the Group of Twenty (G-20), which will meet Saturday and Sunday in Toronto.

"The G-8 are going to be concerned that the economic recovery is not sort of a done deal," William Christian, a noted author of books dealing with Canadian political thought, told Xinhua in a phone interview.

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"They are going to have balance out a number of things. One of the main issues to be discussed is the Americans still believe in an expansive policy in maintaining their very large deficit for the time being, whereas a lot of G-8 countries believe it's necessary to actively attack the size of their government deficit."

Christian cited the ongoing deflationary period that Japan has been mired in for the past 15 years as a concern, as well as Britain spending a great proportion of its national debt to reduce deficit.

"A lot of economists are worried about deflation in the short term as a lot of countries are pulling back," he said.

Alan Alexandroff, a University of Toronto professor and a co-director of the G-20 research group, said with Canada holding the presidency of the G-8 summit this year, the country will push an agenda of "accountability and shared responsibility" to ensure previous commitments are carried out.

At the 2009 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, an accountability working group was created to monitor and report on G-8 commitments and developments. At the upcoming summit in Muskoka, just north of Toronto, the group will present a report describing 56 commitments in such areas as food security, sanitation, water, health, economic development, aid and aid effectiveness.

In a paper "Leadership and the Global Governance Agenda: Three Voices" that previews the two summits, Alexandroff outlined a possible agenda that included vulnerable states, climate change, energy, and the economy.

"They may well look at the dilemma in Europe and the implications of that, even within the G-8. You have the Europeans there, the Japanese, the American et cetera. The wider question is so-called global imbalances. Although they have a G-8 aspect to them, it does make sense that they would discuss those matters like global imbalances in the new framework, strong sustainable balanced growth in the G-20."

Climate change is another topic that could be on the agenda. Nothing major, however, was expected after last year's Copenhagen Climate Conference failed to produce a legally binding pact toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

"There could well be some discussion, if not on a broad issue of climate change," Alexandroff told Xinhua.

"But there could well be a discussion of fuel subsidies, particularly with respect to removing subsidies in all these countries with respect at least to consumer subsidies, but ultimately producer subsidies."

David Steven, a fellow at New York University's center on international cooperation, said the G-8 was dealing with pretty much a "diffused agenda,"basically stuff the G-20 would not deal with. Instead, the latter would deal with all the "important issues" in the financial and sovereign debt crisis.

"The G-8 is a bit of a sideshow to be honest," Steven said, "I know (Canada is discussing) maternal health, they'll come back to the Gleneagles development commitments, maybe they might talk about climate change, but I can't really see that going anywhere at the moment."

Steven added that the environment would likely get little play at the talks.

"We didn't get much out of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) meeting in Bonn and people are still reacting to and digesting to the fallout from Copenhagen," he said.