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G8 Summit - Africa not the only issue

by Hans de Vreij, 5 July 2005

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The location for the G8 summit - Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland

The annual conference of the seven richest industrialised nations plus Russia - better known as the G8 - opens in Gleneagles, Scotland, this Wednesday, with the main items on the agenda being climate change, the situation in Africa and - according to the latest expectations - the rapidly rising price of crude oil.

Many slightly older spectators of last weekend's 'Live 8' concerts and the wave of publicity surrounding the G8 summit in Gleneagles may well have had the feeling that history is repeating itself. That feeling was not only brought on by the sight of such pop dinosaurs as Paul McCartney, Bob Geldof and the Pink Floyd, but also by the 'spin' given to the upcoming G8 summit by host nation the United Kingdom.

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Click to listen to an interview with Prof. John Kirton, University of Toronto, about the G8 summit
In recent months, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his financial right-hand man, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, have had great success selling the message that, mainly thanks to their enthusiastic efforts and the help of Bob Geldof, Africa's problems will now be seriously discussed for the first time by the G8 members: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. 

Not the first time
However, the real picture is slightly different, for Africa with its recurring hunger problems and continuing debt mountain has in fact been on the agenda of the leaders of the seven richest democracies, plus Russia, for many years. Just three years ago, for example, the summit in Kananaskis, Canada, saw the adoption of an ambitious long-term plan entitled the 'Action Plan for Africa'.

This plan by the G8 tied up with the NEPAD (New Partnership for Development) plan, which emerged from Africa itself. Nor is mass public mobilisation a new development. One only has to look to the 1998 summit of the then-G7 in Birmingham, England, when some 70,000 demonstrators formed a human chain around the conference location, calling on the participants to 'break the chains of debt'.

Despite the strong focus on Africa, it should be remembered that it will not be the only theme of the Gleneagles summit. Mr Blair and company have made it one of the two main points of discussion. The other key issue is the threat of climate change, and when the discussions turn to that subject, the leaders of the most important growing economies in the world - China, India, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa - will also join the meeting.

And then there's...
There are also a number of 'fixed' agenda items, most of which have already been worked out at ministerial level in recent months, so that the leaders of the G8 will have little left to do other than cross the t's and dot the i's. These include various economic and financial issues, as well as terrorism - where a new deal on the exchange of personal data is expected - and weapons of mass destruction, with North Korea, Iran and the problem issue of Russia's 'antiquated' nuclear weapons heading that particular list.

As often happens, another highly-topical issue has presented itself in recent weeks: the price of crude oil, which has risen dramatically over the past few months and now stands at 60 US dollars a barrel. This is now expected to join Africa and climate change as one of the main issues under the spotlight at the G8 summit. It's not for nothing that Prime Minister Blair paid a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia at the weekend, not - as the official explanation would have it - to seek Saudi support for a new G8 initiative for the Gaza Strip, but to ask the world's largest oil producer to keep the price under control, and preferably down. 

Unavoidable issue
With the spectre of a barrel of crude reaching the price of 100 dollars, the world economy could be about to face a crisis on the scale of that seen at the beginning of the 1970s. It was that crisis which led, in 1975, to the first meeting of the leaders of the richest industrialised nations, in the French town of Rambouillet.

Incidentally, experts are not expecting a crisis of such proportions will develop, and believe that the large economies will be able to cope for a time with a high oil price. Nonetheless, it's an issue which the G8 cannot avoid: a major oil crisis would bring a halt to economic growth, and the negative impact of such a development would be felt all over the world, including the developing nations of Africa and elsewhere.

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