Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines | Analysis

G8: Add Another Five – In a Way

Analysis by Ramesh Jaura

TOKYO, Jul 13 2008 (IPS) - Last week’s G8 summit meetings in Toyako on the Japanese island of Hokkaido were critical not only for North-South but also South-South relations and their impact on a globalised world.

The group of eight (G8) countries (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Japan, Canada and the United States) failed to rise above their vested interests. The summit outcome therefore lagged far behind expectations.

But the fact that leaders of 14 countries from Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America were invited by host country Japan to confer with the G8 in specific segments of the summit gave the gathering the flavour of a North-South summit. It also lent a historic dimension to what was essentially a G8 summit.

The 22 countries that account for 80 percent of the world’s total energy consumption were joined by the UN Secretary-General, the heads of the European Commission and the Commission of the African Union, and of the World Bank and the International Energy Agency.

It was the first time in the history of such meetings since the first world economic summit 1975 in Rambouillet (France) that so many leaders of industrialised countries of the north and the emerging economies of the south exchanged views face-to-face on issues of global, regional and local significance.

The other occasion for such an exchange was the Cancun summit on international cooperation and development – also known as the first North-South summit – in October 1981 in Mexico. The participants were Algeria, Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Guyana, India, Cote d’Ivoire, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Tanzania, the U.S., Venezuela, West Germany, and Yugoslavia.

Participation in the G8 summit in Toyako reflected the changed political and economic realities. The number of African participants was much larger, and included Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. Asia-Pacific invitees came from Australia, China, India, Indonesia and South Korea. Brazil and Mexico represented Latin America.

The main idea behind the Cancun summit 27 years ago was to impress upon the industrialised countries the need to help the developing world climb out of poverty. The inspiration for that was a report published in 1980 by an 18-member independent commission on international development headed by Nobel laureate and former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt.

The commission pleaded for major aid transfers to the developing world, reform of international lending agencies to provide cheaper credit to the poor countries, and the stabilisation of oil and commodity prices to benefit developing countries.

Though that summit, designed as informal, concluded without a substantial and a binding agreement, it did provide a strong impulse for discussions in the following years on food and agriculture, energy, raw materials, trade and development as well as financial policy.

At the Toyako summit last week climate change was added to the catalogue of those issues, though these have become more complicated and intertwined over the years.

The G8 summit leaders were expected to take tough decisions in favour of conservation of the planet. But they failed to rise to the occasion.

But a plethora of documents emerging from the summit indicated hope for more cooperative North-South relations. An interim report tabled at Toyako on the Heiligendamm Process launched at the summit last year in Germany promised light at the end of the tunnel. The Process aims at intensifying cooperation between the G8 and five emerging countries in particular: Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa (G5).

With the exception of France and Britain, the G8 are not yet willing to enlarge their grouping to a G13, which would be more representative of today’s world. But in their interim report on the Heiligendamm process the G8 and G5 say the summit process holds “great potential to strengthen cooperation to our mutual benefit.”

It enables the 13 members of the North-South grouping to conduct policy dialogue that may benefit a later negotiating process. This is intended to complement work in other multilateral or regional institutions and forums.

The interim report, reflecting the views of the G8 and the G5 adds: “The goal is to work together to meet the challenges of globalisation, to work towards a common view on outstanding global issues, and on the basis to develop common initiatives for resolving them.”

In a separate statement issued during the Toyako summit on Jul. 8, the G5 list some of their basic concerns which they obviously did not find reflected in the G8 documents.

– The potential of globalisation and innovation to raise living standards is unprecedented, but so are social and sustainable development challenges.

– The interrelationships of a global economic slowdown marked by financial uncertainty, the persistence of trade protectionist distortions, soaring food and oil prices, and the threats posed by climate change add complexity to the current scenario.

– Increasing interdependence demands an integrated and concerted response to these global challenges.

In view of this, the G5 said it is imperative to “ensure development and prosperity on a sustainable path, both within and across nations.” To achieve this fundamental goal, it is necessary to “act in a coordinated manner to ensure equitable growth with care for the environment. It is also necessary to take appropriate account of cross-border interactions in fulfilment of our shared responsibility.”

The declaration includes three important messages:

“We reaffirm the role of South-South cooperation in the context of multilateralism, and the need to strengthen it as an important platform for developing countries to jointly respond to development challenges.

“We reiterate that South-South cooperation enjoys important comparative advantages and complements rather than replaces North-South cooperation. In this context, we call upon governments, international organisations and all relevant actors to support South-South cooperation, by fully tapping the synergies of triangular cooperation.

“While acknowledging progress in South-South cooperation in recent years, we are committed to continue broadening its reach and impact through innovative models of cooperation based on the principles of equality and mutual benefit.”

That this is not going to be a smooth ride is underlined by the fact that the national interests of the G5 countries are not always identical. The two Asian giants, China and India, continue to eye each other with unmitigated suspicion. Brazil and Mexico vie with each other for a leadership role in Latin America. South Africa cannot claim to speak on behalf of all African leaders.

These should have been reasons enough for the G5 to encourage six other African leaders to sign on to their joint political declaration. They could have been communicated more effectively if the G5 did not lack a communication strategy to put across their common and agreed interests to larger sections of the public.

None of the G5 leaders found it worthwhile to drive some 40 kilometres from the venue of their meetings with the G8 to make their views known to about 2,500 journalists working from the international media centre.

Most of the media representatives from around the world learnt about the G5 statement through news agency reports.

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