The G8, is made up of the seven most powerful economies of the world, (United States, Japan, Germany, France, UK, Canada, Italy) and Russia.
Together they form a very powerful and influential (though informal) group of nations. For example, they accounting for almost 50% of the votes at the IMF and World Bank.
Annual G8 summits often involve discussions on how to deal with the world’s (or their) most pressing concerns. As such it also attracts a lot of protesters, campaigners, and increasingly mainstream media. This page gives a brief overview of some of the recent meetings.
Due to the influence and power of the G8 nations, their summits have been seen as a chance to discuss a number of social, political and economic issues. While G8 nations themselves often differ on certain policies, their overall agendas and eventual decisions/agreements have a direct bearing on most other regions throughout the world. As the following points out, their indirect influence as well as direct influence is great and far-reaching:
As a result, the G8 have come under a number of criticisms from around the world. The following also highlights some of the problems.
Each year, the G8 meet to discuss a number of issues. In recent years, these meetings have become more high-profiled and accompanied with criticisms for the impact of the agendas of these nations on the rest of the world. In many cases there have been enormous street protests or campaigns to highlight some of the urgent issues. Some are highlighted here:
To avoid a turnout of protestors, the isolated location of Kananaskis was chosen for the 2002 G8 Summit.
An initiative called the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) had received a lot of attention and support from the G8 leaders as a plan developed by Africans for Africans, but critics had pointed out that this was developed by the leaders without consulatation11 with civil society.
While many issues were discussed at the summit, such as the war on terror and nuclear disarmament amongst other issues, when it came to Africa’s development, trade and aid issues, there was much criticism on little substantive progress. For example, $6 billion dollars of aid was promised for the controversial NEPAD plan, which sounds like a huge sum, but it was only a portion12 of the $64 billion that was needed. An extra billion dollars was also provided to address the worsening terms of trade due to the collapse in exports (which has been a key prescription to prosperity). In contrast, $20 billion was readily made available to secure Russian nuclear stockpiles. (While security issues are of course important, the issue in relation to Africa has been how for years there has been much talk and little action for trade and development issues.)
Many of the key concerns of African nations, such as reciprocating and opening up the markets of the rich nations, canceling odious debt of the poorest countries, investment in infrastructure were not addressed13. This is how the Guardian summarized it:
Even the World Bank, often criticized for a number of its policies and impacts on the poor countries, has been critical of the G8 outcome in respect to aid to Africa, describing a number of perspectives and news reports from around the world, commenting that:
An additional issue highlighted even more so was the way U.S./E.U./Japan subsidies for some of their own industries have harmed the poorer countries. When such policies appear to be no-go areas in terms of discussion, then talk of aid and development has been criticized by some as being hollow. The New York Times is worth quoting at length:
The 2001 G8 summit in Genoa, Italy has seen an estimated 100,000 people turn up for protests. However, the huge almost militarization17 of the police, as Walden Bello has described it, and a small violent group of protestors resulted in immense police brutality even with the death of a protestor. (Reports had been coming in all the time during this event at the IndyMedia’s (independent media) Italy web site18.
Walden Bello (as well as others) also raised the additional concern that the violence by the police, and also by a fringe anarchist group nick-named the blac bloc, combined with the mainstream media fixation on the sensationalism of the violence distorted coverage of the issues at hand for, which so many people turned out to highlight in the first place.
The G8 summit failed to make any progress on debt cancellation.
The 2000 G8 summit in Okinawa was also accompanied by protests, at militarism and debt relief (or lack, thereof). At the start of the protests, 27,000 people took part in a human chain around the summit building.
(Incidentally, the 2000 G8 summit in Okinawa and the accompanying protests about the large US military bases there and militarism in north east Asia20, in general, also highlights another issue about globalization — that is, the military back bone that the more powerful countries need to be able to maintain and pursue a globalization strategy that benefits them (and not necessarily everyone else). For more on the military aspect of globalization, as well as the previous link, you can also start from this web site’s section on military expansion21. Futhermore, for all the talk about the dollars in aid, or in debt forgiveness, the annual military budgets are still far higher in magnitude, as discussed on this site’s arms trade22 section.)
And for the 1999 G8 summit, thanks to the efforts of groups like Jubilee 2000 the debt issue was still on the agenda. They had even gone as far as saying that the most generous proposals for debt relief by the G8 nations in advance of the summit did not go far enough23 to help relieve the burden of debt and poverty and in fact, was equivalent to just 5 loaves of bread per person for the year.
UNICEF also joined in24 the call at the 1999 G8 Summit to relieve debt in Africa.
The meeting ended with the G8 offering debt relief. However, it was still criticized to be not enough25. (The previous link makes an interesting comparison that after World War II, Germany had more relief so that the children there would have a chance for a decent future, whereas today almost a million children will have died of easily prevented diseases during the last two months, something easily avoided by reducing the debt burden in those nations.)
While not as large as the previous year, 35,000 people formed a human chain26 around the G8 summit building in Cologne. There were also many famous pop stars. As mentioned in the previous link, U2’s Bono described how absurd it was to have to get the media interested in an issue that deals with peoples lives.
During the G8 Summit in Birmingham, England, on the weekend of 15th to 18th May, 1998, an amazing 70,000 people formed a human chain27 around the Summit building. A petition of 1.5 million signatures was handed in to represent the Jubilee 2000 initiative to reduce (or even cancel, in some cases) the heavy debt burden faced by the very poor countries.
Unfortunately, as reported by the Guardian (May 17, 1998), the steps taken by the G8 were not seen by many to be as positive as they could have been. The majority suffers and ends up paying the price28 for the few rulers of these countries who have misused the loans, or because institutions like the IMF have demanded strict reforms and cutbacks in social expenditure.