G-8 try to be all things to all people

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 20 June -- Reading the text of the communique of the Group of 8, and trying to fathom the policies they would be pursuing, has for some years now been like reading tea leaves or like ancient Greeks looking at the sheep's entrails for an augury.

When they began in the mid-1970s, it was an effort to have some coordinated and common policies on international economic issues.

They have abandoned that idea, long since, with participant despite all the incantations at the summit, each pursuing national macro-economic policies to suit their own domestic needs and interests, and hoping that somehow things would result in coherence at global level.

And to hide their own helplessness, the G-7 plus Russia (with final outcomes negotiated and settled before hand by their 'sherpas') range over the whole range of economic, political, social and security issues.

The Cologne summit and communique is no exception. The NATO has shown it can militarily prevail, by bombing the opponents to dust from a distance (without incurring any casualties of their own that would arouse domestic opposition). But that they can prevail in peace remains to be seen.

On the economic front, it is at best a bundle of hopes and "whistling in the dark", and pursuit of individual mercantile interests of their corporations through the WTO trading system.

In relation to the world trading system and the moves for a new round, the G-8 communique suggests that the leading industrialized nations have not been able to agree on a wish list for Seattle.

They have had to content themselves into calling for a "new round of broad-based ambitious negotiations with the aim of achieving substantial and manageable results" - a formulation much less than the European ideas of a "comprehensive round, with an open agenda"

But developing countries have been served notice that the US and Europe would try and bring on to the agenda of the trading system, environment and labour issues - though the latter is flagged somewhat more vaguely.

But they have hijacked the demand of some developing countries for "policy coherence" between the trading and financial systems, and have called for "policy coherence" among international financial, economic, labour and environment organizations, to attempt to bring in labour and environment issues into the WTO.

On trade, the communique says: "8. The multilateral trading system incorporated in the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been key to promoting international trade and investment and to increasing economic growth, employment and social progress. We therefore renew our strong support for the WTO and our commitment to an open trade and investment environment. We call on all nations to resist protectionist pressures and to open their markets further. We encourage those states not yet members of the WTO to join it, by accepting its principles.

"9. Given the WTO's vital role, we agree on the importance of improving its transparency to make it more responsive to civil society while preserving its government-to-government nature. We pledge to work for a successful ministerial meeting in Seattle in order to launch the new round.

"We will also seek a more effective way within the WTO for addressing the trade and environment relationship and promoting sustainable development and social and economic welfare worldwide.

"10. We therefore call on all nations to launch at the WTO ministerial Conference in Seattle in December 1999 a new round of broad-based and ambitious negotiations with the aim of achieving substantial and manageable results. All members should have a stake in the process. We encourage all members to make proposals for progress in areas where developing countries and in particular least developed countries can make solid and substantial gains; all countries should contribute to and benefit from the new round. An effective new round of trade negotiations should help pave the way for the further integration of the developing countries into the world economy. In this context we reaffirm our commitment made in Birmingham last year to the least developed countries on improved market access.

"We also urge greater cooperation and policy coherence among international financial, economic, labour and environmental organizations."

But their views on bio-technology -- in the face of rising public concerns over genetically engineered products that corporations are pushing, concerns that are very vocal in Europe, but now apparently gathering strength in the US too -- is unlikely to remove these fears and concerns.

The G-8 say on this:

"11. Because trade is increasingly global, the consequences of developments in biotechnology must be dealt with at the national and international levels in all the appropriate fora. We are committed to a science-based, rules-based approach to addressing these issues."

Later in their communique (where they have grouped and put together, in separate paras, AIDS, fighting malaria and tuberculosis and bio-safety, and anti-bribery), the G-8 have attempted to send the issues to a committee - a low-level committee at the OECD.

"43. In light of the increasing importance of issues concerning food safety we invite the OECD Working Group on Harmonization of Regulatory Oversight of Biotechnology and the OECD Task Force for the Safety of Novel Foods and Feeds to undertake a study of the implications of biotechnology and other aspects of food safety. We invite OECD experts to discuss their findings with our personal representatives. We ask the latter to report to us by the next Summit on possible ways to improve our approach to these issues through international and other institutions, taking into account the reflections underway in other fora."

In a separate part of the communique relating to environment issues, they have referred to the environment and trade nexus and have indicated they would make an effort to bring up at Seattle the trade-environment issues and standards:

"31. To underscore our commitment to sustainable development we will step up our efforts to build a coherent global and environmentally responsive framework of multilateral agreements and institutions. We support the outcome of the G-8 Environment Ministers' meeting in Schwerin and will expedite international cooperation on the establishment, general recognition and continual improvement of environmental standards and norms. We agree that environmental considerations should be taken fully into account in the upcoming round of WTO negotiations. This should include a clarification of the relationship between both multilateral environmental agreements and key environmental principles, and WTO rules."

On climate change, the G-8 promised "to work towards timely progress in implementing the Buenos Aires Plan of Action with a view to early entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol." In particular, they encouraged decisions on the operation of the Kyoto mechanisms and on a "strong and effective compliance regime." The G-8 also underlined the importance of taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through rational and efficient use of energy and through other cost-effective means. They committed themselves to develop and implement domestic measures including under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to exchange experience on best practices, and "to promote increasing global participation of developing countries in limiting greenhouse gas emissions." They welcomed the action already taken by developing countries and stress the need to support their efforts through financial mechanisms, the development and transfer of technology, and capacity-building." The G-8 also welcomed the intention announced by "some developing countries" in Buenos Aires to undertake further commitments to abate their greenhouse gas emissions.

On the social questions, there is some recognition of the downside to the "globalization" theology, and the talk of globalization "with a human face", perhaps a reminder of the talk of "structural adjustment with a human face" in Africa and elsewhere.

Calling for strengthening social safeguards, they have asked the IMF and the World Bank to support and monitor development of sound social policy and infrastructure in the developing countries, the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and the International Labour Organization working together in promoting adequate social protection and core labour standards, and the IFIs "to incorporate these standards into their policy dialogue with member countries." The G-8 have also stressed the importance of "effective cooperation between the WTO and the ILO on the social dimensions of globalization and trade liberalization." (SUNS4460)

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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