Lula: G8 An Idea Whose Time Is Past

President Obama heads today to L’Aquila, Italy, for the three-day Group of 8 (G8) summit, and the New York Times has little hope anything useful will come out of it, due to “inexcusably lax planning by the host government, Italy, and the political weakness of many of the leaders attending.” Oh, and there’s also the slight possibility that another earthquake might hit the place just at the wrong time and trigger an evacuation plan to quickly fly the world’s seven top leaders somewhere else. (China’s Hu Jintao has already broken off his attendance there to fly back because of the continuing civil unrest in Xinjiang.)

Brazil’s president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (usually known just as “Lula”) is also in Italy, although Brazil is not one of the countries making up the G8. That’s apparently because national leaders of other big and/or important countries which don’t quite qualify for the G8 are nonetheless often summoned to show up for token appearances as well. In an exclusive interview with Le Monde, though, Lula makes it known that he is not particularly grateful for the invitation: as one might expect, what you could call the “off-G8” leaders are mainly there, as he puts it, “to have some coffee – the most expensive coffee in the world! – and for photos.”

As much as I might be enamored of that “off-G8” neologism of mine just above (you know, like “off-Broadway”?), I’m afraid there’s a better, already-existing term we could use for those other countries like Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa, namely the G20, after the somewhat-larger international summit of world leaders that had its first occasion last November in Washington, its second last April in London, and is scheduled to have its third next September in Pittsburgh. And indeed, in this interview Lula essentially calls for scrapping the G8 structure for yearly international summits in favor of the G20: “The G20 is more important than the G8, more representative, therefore closer to the realities of the crisis we are now going through.” He fears that the only reason the world’s richest countries allowed the G20 forum to get started at all was because they felt it was necessary for dealing with the world economic crisis (indeed, the G20’s short history does suggest that). Instead, though, he advocates not only abolition of the G8 but also an expansion of the G20 structure, to the point where it starts to look a bit like the way the European Union functions, in that regular G20 meetings would also be scheduled for officials below the head-of-government level as well, e.g. meetings of G20 finance ministers, of agricultural ministers, etc.

It’s a relatively short interview (just four questions), but Lula is a practiced politician and so manages to get in plugs for his other pet causes as well, like ratification of the Doha world trade round; a general dismantlement of the trade barriers keeping developing countries from selling their agricultural produce to developed countries; and, if governments think ethanol is a valid alternative energy source, then for the use of sugar cane to make it (like they do in Brazil, quite successfully) rather than corn (like they do in the US, quite unsuccessfully so far). He has also come up with an inside-the-G8 insurgent ally to help put additional pressure on that organization; it should come as no surprise that that is French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who together with Lula (as reported in yet another Le Monde article) is calling for the establishment of a world-wide “Alliance for Change” to “devote priority attention to the social dimension of globalization,” i.e. outside of the G8 structure because, according to those leaders, the G8 has shown itself as unwilling ever to address that subject on its own.

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