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Bigger 'G' Grouping Looks Set To Supplant G8

  • Kathleen Moore

A growing club: some G8 leaders, and some G14 leaders, at the summit in Italy

A growing club: some G8 leaders, and some G14 leaders, at the summit in Italy

Members of the G8 group of leading industrialized nations have agreed to limit rising world temperatures, and promised $20 billion to help farmers in poor countries. But perhaps the most remarkable thing to emerge from last week's summit in Italy was the signal the group's days might be numbered.

U.S. President Barack Obama called it "the issue of the Gs."

Can major global issues continue to be discussed and decided by the G8, a small, elite group of countries – the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia?

And if not, what might be the right format?

Obama said that was up for debate. But one thing was clear -- institutions like the G8 were set up in a different time and place, and no longer "adequately capture" the huge political and economic changes of recent years.

"One thing that is absolutely true is that for us to think we can somehow deal with some of these global challenges in the absence of major powers like China, India, and Brazil seems to me wrongheaded," Obama said.

The L'Aquila G8 summit itself showed the limitations of the G8 format and highlighted a shift of power that has raised the profile of emerging economies.

In fact, the three-day gathering was limited to the G8 on the opening day only.

It then widened to include the "G5 plus one" -- jargon for the big emerging economies of Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa, plus Egypt.

Those countries plus the G8 – totaling up to a so-called G14 -- is the format favored by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and the summit’s host, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

"As far as I am concerned, the G14 is the format that in the future will have the best possibility to take the most important decisions on the world economy, and not just that," Berlusconi said.

Another contender for a future format is the G20.

That's the G8, plus the G5 big emerging powers, as well as others like Argentina, Indonesia, and Turkey.

In other words, a kind of G14-minus-one-plus-seven.

But however you calculate it, the G20 is the group that emerged in the past year as the key forum for tackling the global economic crisis.

In London in April, leaders agreed a $1 trillion deal to help battered economies weather the crisis. Its next summit is in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in September.

A senior U.S. official -- Michael Froman, the U.S. deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs -- described L'Aquila as a "midpoint" between those two summits.

G8 No Longer Global


Vanessa Rossi, a senior research fellow in the international economics program at London think-tank Chatham House, says the G8 could justify its existence if it stuck to issues of more narrow concern to the rich world -- for example, problems with the Western banking system.

Otherwise, she says, it's time to move on. "It's become abundantly clear that when they're talking about global issues -- whether this is global new rules for banking or it's climate change, or aid for poorer countries in the world -- then the G8 is no longer the format for this. We have already moved on to the G20," she said.

To be sure, others -- among them, Berlusconi -- argue that wider groups like the G20 could be too unwieldy.

And some G8 states might be happier with the status quo and reluctant to dilute its influence.

Sergei Prikhodko, an aide to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, said at the summit that it was "too early to bury the G8."

According to Obama, a new grouping would have to combine inclusiveness with a capacity for action.

"Everyone wants the smallest possible group, the smallest possible organization, that includes them. So if they're the 21st-largest nation in the world, then they want the G21 and think it's highly unfair if they've been cut out," he said.

But it might take lengthy efforts to find the right shape.
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