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Friday, June 25, 2010

Developing countries join G8 at Huntsville summit

Developing countries join G8 at Huntsville summit

In a barrage of camera flashes, the leaders of seven African countries, Haiti, Jamaica and Colombia arrived at a resort in Huntsville, Ont., joining the meeting of G8 nations that opened Friday.

(Obama arrives in Toronto )

Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomed the select group of developing-country leaders after handpicking them to attend side meetings at the G8 summit.

"I'd like to offer a special welcome to our new attendees," Harper told reporters. "I'm glad that once again we're able to build on the G8's strong tradition of outreach to African partners."

In addition to discussions of global economic issues that are typical of a G8 summit, talks with Haiti, Jamaica, Colombia are expected focus on peace and security issues stemming from problems such as the illegal drug trade.

Discussions with the leaders of South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, Malawi, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Senegal will focus on development issues.

Earlier in the day, Harper welcomed the G8 leaders with a series of handshakes and camera poses, officially launching the international meeting. The G8 leaders later lunched together and then posed for a group photo along the shore of a nearby lake at Deerhurst Resort.

Prior to the summit's official launch on Friday, Harper held bilateral meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Their talks ranged from development, security and relations with North Korea.

Informal meetings at the summit were underway all morning. The side meetings came as U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Canada, hot on the heels of a last-minute agreement on a bill that would bring sweeping changes to rules overseeing Wall Street.

Obama touched down at Toronto's Pearson International Airport before 10:30 a.m. Friday, and immediately boarded a helicopter to make the trip north to Huntsville.

Just hours earlier, Obama put the final touches on a compromise agreement with congressional negotiators that would overhaul a sweeping range of financial transactions.

"We've all seen what happens when there is inadequate oversight and insufficient transparency on Wall Street," Obama told reporters in Washington, promising to discuss the regulations during the weekend meetings in Ontario.

"The reforms working their way through Congress will hold Wall Street accountable so we can help prevent another financial crisis like the one that we're still recovering from."

Signature initiative

Obama arrived just hours before Harper launched the meeting of leaders from the Group of Eight -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States. A broad range of issues, from North Korea, Iran's nuclear program, drug trafficking and the global economy are all on the agenda.

Harper marked the summit with an official announcement of his government's pledge of more than $1 billion for a maternal and child health initiative. Harper's proposal, positioned as a "signature" of these meetings, has come under fire since his Conservative government declared no Canadian money would go toward funding abortion.

Despite widespread criticism, the U.S., Britain and France have signalled their support for the plan, with Russia and Germany indicating they may also pledge some cash.

There are reports a compromise may be struck allowing each contributor to determine how their money will be spent. That's also fuelled ongoing arguments over whether the final announcement should include a total amount of the collective commitment, or outline each nation's individual contribution.

Whatever the final amounts, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office said Harper is seeking new money, not rechannelled committments.

"Canada is seeking a new resources and new commitments from G8 partners on maternal new born and child health initiatives," Dimitri Soudas told reporters at a press conference at Deerhurst Friday morning. "And we are working to mobilize support from non-G8 members as well as private organizations and foundations."

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has already committed more than $1-billion USD to the initiative.

Agree to disagree

Despite indications Harper may yet cobble together consensus on his signature initiative, agreement on other key issues seems less likely.

In the long run-up to the summit, key sticking points have included:

the course of global economic recovery, particularly the debate over stimulus spending vs. deficit cutting
financial system reform, including bank capital standards and oversight
the imposition of a tax on banks to cover future bailouts
climate change

Hours before G8 leaders were to begin their lakeside summit, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty downplayed the need for absolute consensus on key issues.

In an interview with CTV's Canada AM, Flaherty said, "One size doesn't fit all, of course."

In Flaherty's view, the issue is divided among three camps: the emerging economies in Asia that need to increase domestic demand, some European countries that need to consolidate debt "on an urgent basis," and the countries in the middle that have the luxury of more time to deal with their debt and deficits.

"The whole point is to get the balance," Flaherty explained.

On his way to the summit, the British Prime Minister was also downplaying the G8 leaders' differences of opinion.

"This weekend isn't about a row over fiscal policy. We all agree about the need for fiscal consolidation," Cameron told reporters on his flight from London. "This is about putting the world economy on an irreversible path to recovery."

In the lead-up to these summits, Obama has struggled to rally support behind his warnings that stimulus spending shouldn't be cut off too quickly. Last week, Obama sent a letter warning his G8 counterparts that such a move could spur a repeat of the Great Depression.

Harper issued his own missive urging leaders to target deficit reduction instead. Britain, Germany, France and Japan have already unveiled their own deficit-cutting plans. Harper underscored his pleasure with those moves after his meeting with the British Prime Minister on Friday.

"... I'm delighted to have you here just off a budget where you highlighted the very fiscal consolidation that we're trying to steer the G20 toward," Harper said. "I appreciate your responsible and difficult decisions in that regard."

G8 leaders will spend just a day and a half in Huntsville.

G20 Preparations

At the conclusion of the Huntsville meetings, leaders will travel south to Toronto for the larger Group of Twenty summit. Leaders of the G20 -- including such major developing powers as China, Brazil and India -- will begin official discussions over dinner in Toronto Saturday night before concluding their talks Sunday.

During the first G20 leaders' meetings in Washington and London -- spurred by the global economic crisis that followed the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers -- the group reached widespread consensus on the need to pump public money into the economy. Nearly a year ago, at the Pittsburgh summit, leaders agreed on a framework for long-term growth. Since then, as the global economy has retreated from the brink of collapse, that spirit of co-operation has been waning.

The prospect of leaders emerging from this weekend's talks without some substantive agreement could prove embarrassing for Canadian officials, in light of the summits' estimated $1.24 billion pricetag. Most of that budget - over $800 million - has been spent on security.

In anticipation of the world leaders' arrival, Toronto's downtown core has been transformed into a fortified security zone. An estimated 19,000 members of security forces from across Canada have gathered in anticipation of potentially violent protests.

Reporting from inside the secure zone, CTV's Tom Clark said it's not surprising that so far, no major security incidents have materialized.

"You've got a billion dollars worth of security on a tension wire, so nothing goes beyond their view," Clark told CTV News Channel, adding that the effect has been to eerily transform the city.

"Canada's biggest, busiest city is deserted."

Huntsville Protests

Unlike Toronto, where a series of protests, marches and demonstrations have been mounted in the days leading up to the gathering of G20 leaders, the resort town of Huntsville hadn't seen any significant public protest ahead of the summit. As the official summit events kicked off that changed, however slightly.

A small group of locals led a march through the town centre Friday morning, calling for G8 leaders to declare water a human right.

Oxfam staged its own publicity stunt with a gathering of people wearing giant papier mache heads of the G8 leaders. Urging the real G8 leaders to put the issue of extreme poverty on the agenda, they were joined by actor Bill Nighy, an Oxfam ambassador who declared his presence in the idyllic lakeside town as one of "benign nuisance."

Capturing the mood in Huntsville, CP24's Sue Sgambati described the tone of muted dissent as "folksy".



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