There have always been doubts about how much — besides socializing — the annual G-8 diplomatic pageant achieves. This year’s gathering in Sapporo, Japan, which begins today is creating the usual pessimism, not only because combating world poverty and oil price hikes, the two burning issues of the day, would have been a handful in themselves but also because the G-8 leaders will be sitting down to a full plate of other issues: Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, terrorism, the granting of indigenous peoples greater rights and the battle against discrimination. They are all issues of concern but the worry is that the G-8 is spreading itself too thin. Instead of putting their collective thoughts and actions into treating soaring food and fuel prices, they will instead be looking more like the jack-of-all-trades, but master of none.
But the number of deadly food riots triggered this year in a number of countries over prices that have in instances doubled in the past three years makes it imperative that the G-8 pools its resources on this issue alone. In the wake of this year’s shortages and soaring prices in basic grains and other foodstuffs, the major industrial powers are reportedly set to agree on a new system of food reserves to assist hungry nations. Each of the G-8 members will contribute grain to the global reserves by boosting shipments of food, fertilizers, and seeds to the affected countries to lessen the danger of oil shocks. G-8 countries would be obliged to take part in the system and to release grains such as rice, wheat and corn at a time of crisis that would act to stabilize prices.
So at least for a quick fix, the poor will have to depend on the rich, on how fast they take out their checkbooks and the size of the check they write. The hope is that the G-8 will take this initiative though it must at the same time acknowledge that it is no longer the steering committee for the world economy. The relative clout of the core group has shrunk. The G-6 accounted for about 48 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 1975, but by 2006 the G-8’s share had slipped to around 43 percent. Over the same period, the share of five big emerging economies that call themselves the Group of Five — China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa — grew to 27 percent from 12 percent.
It does not make sense that only eight countries are engaged in trying to solve global food and energy problems when China and India, which account for more than one-third of the world’s population, are left out or at most view the proceedings from the sidelines.
At last year’s G-8 summit in Germany, the leaders declared the global economy was in good condition and oil then cost $70 a barrel. The oil and food situation was stable enough that the forecast for today’s summit in Japan was neither food nor oil but climate change and reaching agreement on a post-Kyoto Accord framework to cut greenhouse gas emissions. How much can and has changed in one year.