New world trade rules top agenda for meeting

Click to follow
The Independent Online

When the leaders of the world's rich countries gather for the annual summit of the Group of Eight nations, much of their work involves reading from a well-fingered script. For months, senior officials have been drafting and redrafting the summit communique which will be voiced the Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshiro Mori, when the summit ends on Sunday.

When the leaders of the world's rich countries gather for the annual summit of the Group of Eight nations, much of their work involves reading from a well-fingered script. For months, senior officials have been drafting and redrafting the summit communique which will be voiced the Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshiro Mori, when the summit ends on Sunday.

Barring unexpected interventions, the participants - including Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, and Vladimir Putin - will agree on a new round of world trade liberalisation talks and stress the importance of stable oil prices.

They will urge Japan to do them all a favour by prodding its economy into further recovery, and they will call for international rules on genetically modified foods. In other words, they will support good things, denounce bad things, and leave the small print for their ministers and officials.

Even the language Japan has chosen to describe the summit is nebulous and aimed at avoiding controversy. The summit will be about "deeper peace of mind", greater world stability" and "greater prosperity".

Mr Mori is excited about plans to bridge the "digital divide" between rich nations rapidly clambering aboard the internet and poor countries where even a basic phone, let alone e-mail is a relative rarity. Mr Mori, prime minister since April, who touched his first computer keyboard last month said on Wednesday: "I believe the IT revolution has the strong potential to effect, in a very short time, structural economic and social changes comparable to the Industrial Revolution."

But on a few subjects there will be real debate with unpredictable outcomes. Central to many of these is the question of debt relief for the 40 nations known as HIPCs - heavily indebted poor countries. At last year's G8 summit in Cologne the leaders promised a package worth $100bn by the end of 2000. The initiative ran out of momentum, largely due to the inability of the rich nations to agree on what conditions to attach to their debt write-off.

But yesterday, in the hours before the summit opened, there was a burst of optimism that a breakthrough might be achieved. In Tokyo the G8 met developing-world leaders such as South Africa's Thabo Mbeki and the Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who spoke of "encouraging words".

The other item of real interest is not on the official agenda. It goes by another acronym: NMD, or national missile defence - an American plan to create a shield capable of knocking out ballistic missiles, around the US and its allies.

Notionally, NMD is aimed at such states as North Korea, but this week's offer by the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, to abandon its independent rocket programme has undermined that justification. China and Russia suspect the NMD is intended to undermine the deterrent value of their own missile arsenals, and Mr Putin, who arrives in Okinawa from North Korea, is expected to come out vigorously against it.

"Since the issue of how to handle this is also being considered in the US, it is difficult for us to show a definite stance," Hidenao Nakagawa, the cabinet spokesman, said. "We hope the US and Russia hold talks on this matter."

Comments