Global Policy Forum

G8- Who Should Be a Member?


By Hayes Davenport

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
July 16, 2008

While climate change, third-world development and rising commodity prices clamored for space on this year's G-8 agenda, there's an even more important topic on the back burner: the addition of new members. As global powers emerge and the influence of the old guard dwindles, the Group of Eight's current incarnation might consider a roster expansion in order to maintain its international relevance. Since 2005, five additional countries have been invited to participate at the annual summits in a limited capacity: China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. This contingent, first invited by U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Gleneagles summit in 2005, is generally known as the "G-8+5."

But G-8 members have long been discussing the growth potential of their official charter, and many of the leaders have spoken out in favor of opening the gates. Former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin advocated enlarging group membership to 20 in 2004, and French president Nicholas Sarkozy has passionately declared that the group should reform itself into a G-13. The motivations behind a G-8 recruitment drive are clear. Without the world's emerging powers as members, experts say the G-8 will be hard-pressed to retain its label as the year's most important international conference. "There have to be some questions over the effectiveness of the current G-8, minus many of the biggest players on the global stage," says Alastair Newton, senior political analyst at Lehman Brothers and an adviser on Blair's G-8 policy team from 1998 to 2000.

China, India come knocking

Of all of the expectant guests outside the G-8's door, China and India are knocking the hardest. Generally understood to contain the world's fastest-growing economies, it's hard to imagine that any up-to-date discussion of global affairs could take place without them. And at least one major topic of this year's summit —climate change — deeply concerns China and India, since alongside expanding economic activity comes increased greenhouse gas emissions and stress on the environment. "Asia is going to become an even more dominant portion of the global economy in the next few years," says Francisco Larios, chief economist of emerging markets at Decision Economics. "They're supplying the world with capital and expanding the reach of their investments around the world. The Asian economic ascent has to be represented in all national forums."

But major roadblocks stand in the way of China's eventual membership. The G-8 originated as a summit for the world's major industrialized democracies, and many pundits contend that socialist China lacks any ideological common ground that furthers the G-8's discourse. Some American politicians, including likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain, advocate both the refusal of admission to China and the removal of Russia from the group due to publicized restrictions of civil liberties imposed by their governments.

India, meanwhile, is a model capitalist democracy and maintains a civil relationship with the G-8 nations — two important qualifications for a first-class candidate. But many experts aren't sure if India would even accept the invitation if offered. India is a leading member of the Non-Aligned Movement, an organization of nations declaring themselves neither for nor against any major global alliances. The nation might also take a G-8 invitation to be an insignificant gesture compared with their larger goals as a world power.

"I think there might be a certain element of Groucho-Marxism to India's situation," says Newton, referring to the comedian's famous assertion that he "wouldn't belong to any club that would have him for a member." "It's also not as if they're being offered a seat on the UN Security Council." Though they would likely join the clubhouse after China and India, Brazil and Mexico are also strong candidates for membership. Their economies are growing at a breakneck pace, and they symbolize geographic regions that are unrepresented in the current G-8.

Fading influence

Each seems to deserve inclusion because of the increasing likelihood that they will one day soon surpass many G-8 nations in financial clout, like Canada and some of the representatives from the E.U — namely, Italy, Germany and France. While Brazil and Mexico are projected to sit at spots four and six on the world gross domestic product rankings in 2050, the U.K., France and Germany might not even make to the top eight. Italy and Canada, meanwhile, are expected to altogether drop out of the top 15.

Some economists recommend a quick structural fix to accommodate these shifts in power: Consolidate all of the E.U. nations into one seat, which would allow room for more members and marginalize those current nations with lessening global influence. "Europe is doing things more and more as a unit," says Chicago-based global economist David Hale. "Their trade policy is unified; the E.U. constitution will unify them even further. And eventually we'll see an E.U. president. The G-8 could easily reflect that integration."

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