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G8: It Will Be a Tale of Two Summits

Analysis by Sanjay Suri

LONDON, Jul 6 2009 (IPS) - There is a reason that eight and five do not add up to 13 when it comes to the G8. And it is not just that the five developing countries that now attend the summit of the eight mighty ones as a matter of course are less rich. It’s because they have their own way to go, and parallel with the G8 meet, their own summit to attend.

The G8 summit of the eight most industrialised nations (the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia) begins officially Wednesday Jul. 8. But, officially, so does the other: the G5 summit of Brazil, China, India, South Africa and Mexico. The two join in a summit only the following day, Jul. 9.

This timetable is set to tell a potent political story that began at the G8 summit at Gleaneagles, Scotland in 2005. That is when the major developing countries first left a strong imprint at a G8 summit.

Just short of a G8 declaration led by then prime minister Tony Blair that developing countries must do more to cut emissions, the G5 as it was only then emerging came up with a joint declaration committing themselves to fighting climate change, but refusing to accept binding commitments.

The G5 are expected to do more of that on Day 1. And in this of all years, a stand on climate change is critical, with a global agreement on fighting climate change due to be signed in Denmark in December.

The G5 have continued since 2005 to take the position that it is the heavily industrialised G8 nations that continue to produce high emissions per capita, that they must take mandatory steps, and that steps taken by developing countries must come with transfer of clean technologies from North to South.

That position is likely to be put across firmly again this year despite differences that have arisen among the G5, with China, for instance, taking far stronger action on emissions than India. But the political bottom line would have to be that these countries do what they believe they must, recognising that this is a shared problem, but without committing to a programme of action determined by the industrialised powers.

The G8 might well find that in inviting the five others, they have only helped firmed up opposition to the G8, or at least firmed up an independent bloc into the G5 that will oppose, or agree, from a position of strength. Because the G5 are only calling the meeting with the G8 leaders their “outreach” summit. The G5 – well, that is their summit.

At the G8 summit in Heiligendamm in Germany, a Heiligendamm Dialogue Process between the G5 and the G8 countries was launched formally, with a two-year remit. A report on that will consider where that has taken mutual issues, which were mainly to seek common ways of guarding innovation, cross-border investment, and energy security.

Finding resources and encouraging investment in Africa was raised as a particular issue, considering also China’s heavy investment in Africa. This dialogue is expected to be given formal approval. Official sources indicate that official sherpas have prepared a blueprint for the leaders to consider.

A common position will be taken here in advance of the outreach between the G8 and the G5, plus Egypt that the Italian hosts have especially invited. Egypt counts as the effective peace-broker now between Israel and the Palestinians, and between the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas factions.

Peace in the Middle East is almost now the centrepiece of the foreign policy of U.S. President Barack Obama. With the who’s who of global leadership around, the blocked peace process in the Middle East is certain to be on the agenda, even if it is on the procedural sidelines.

But the talks between the G8 and the G5 Thursday will be critical on several fronts, other than climate change. Inevitably, the financial crisis is on the agenda. Few believe that those stray shoots that look green at the moment indicate springtime in the financial world, and that the financial crisis is receding into the past.

The summit on Day 2 is expected to throw up a roll call on protectionism. If China could go away from the G20 meeting in London in April and place an immediate ban on foreign courier companies, that calls into question the very validity of agreements at forums like this.

The very act of meeting and agreeing anything is on the informal agenda at this meeting.

Not least, the leaders of all 13 countries are expected to agree at least the beginning of some action towards food security, with prices rising again, and doubts rising over adequate food supply for at least 100 million people around the world believed to be living in hunger. The food security issue will be taken up on the last day of the summit.

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