TORONTO—Despite the growing importance of the G20 as a forum for economic cooperation, G8 leaders agree theirs is still a “pretty essential organization,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters Saturday following a day-and-a-half long summit in Huntsville, Ont.
“I would seriously doubt that,” Harper responded, when asked whether the G8 may be folded into the G20. “I would say that maybe last year at this time there was a lot of talk around the table, but I think I speak clearly for the leaders at the G8.”
The G8 includes the advanced industrialized countries of France, Germany, Italy, Japan, U.K., Canada, and the U.S. as well as Russia. There is also a representative from the European Union.
The G20 includes the G8 countries, along with 12 of the largest emerging economies.
Harper said the G20, which has been active for about a year and a half, had taken over from the G8 as the world’s primary forum for economic cooperation because G8 countries no longer represented enough of the world’s economy to make important global economic decisions on their own.
He said the G20 had done a “magnificent job” since its founding, particularly in response to the recent global economic crisis. However, he said there are “quite frankly limits to what you can discuss and what you can achieve in a group of 20.”
“I think as we get into the G20 process there is a greater understanding of the necessity of having like-minded advanced countries who can exchange views in a much less formal setting and who can sometimes bring resources to bear, that others don’t have, on certain types of conflicts or problems,” Harper said.
Harper is the current chair of the G8. His press conference came at the end of a day-and-a-half G8 Summit held in Huntsville, Ont., and was streamed live to media in Toronto where the G20 summit will be held tomorrow.
“We have refocused the G8 on its strengths—development, peace, and of course, global security challenges,” Harper said.
The centrepiece of the G8 Summit was the Muskoka Initiative on maternal, newborn, and child health. The G8 member countries pledged US$5 billion to the effort to improve maternal and child health in Africa, which Canada pledging the largest portion relative to its GDP. The G8 commitment was matched by an additional $2.3 billion from non-G8 contributors, including $1.5 billion from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The promise was matched by a new effort to ensure accountability, acknowledging that past commitments for similar programs have not always seen results.
“It is essential that the G8 keep its promises going forward,” Harper said. “This is essential for the credibility and effectiveness of this forum as an organization.”
In addition the G8 leaders discussed coordinated action against Iran and North Korea, which Harper said had “chosen to acquire weapons that threaten their neighbours.”
“The world must see to it that what they spend on these weapons will not be the only cost that they incur,” Harper said.
The leaders also discussed the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Harper said the G8 countries include many who are active in the war there, and were committed to ensuring Afghanistan becomes a stable country, rather than a haven for terrorists or a failed state.
“The G8 has been reshaped and reenergized,” Harper told reporters. “Its members share common objectives in the world and of course now I look forward to meeting my colleagues of the G20.”
The G20 is scheduled to take place in Sunday at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. World leaders and their wives will take part in a welcome reception at the Royal York hotel in downtown Toronto Saturday evening.