With the leaders of the G-7 industrialized nations meeting in Naples today, the skeptics are once again out in force. The same old epithets are being hurled at the process: ''media circus,'' ''waste of money,'' ''a lot of hot air.'' Sure this annual meeting is a kaffeeklatsch extraordinaire, but that's why it often works.
Summitry provides a fine opportunity for leaders to have tete-a-tetes (called bilaterals) that are often very productive. These can either take place en route to the summit (witness Prime Minister Jean Chretien's bilateral with the German chancellor on Wednesday) or at the summit itself. Chretien used his intimate meeting with Helmut Kohl not only to state openly Canada's position on Bosnia, but to also try to quietly reassure Kohl about the prospects of Quebec separation.
Bilaterals are also a good time for leaders to iron out some of their countries' differences. For example, in a bilateral with U.S. President Bill Clinton during the Tokyo summit, then-prime minister Kim Campell was able to secure support for ending the three-year beer war between the two nations.
Less than two weeks after the summit, a beer pact was struck largely thanks to what was reported at the time as ''direct pressure by the White House.'' Let's hope Chretien is as successful in his scheduled talks with Clinton that will touch on trade disputes involving softwood lumber, wheat and salmon.
When not in bilateral meetings, Chretien will be championing several causes to his G-7 partners in Naples. The PM will be looking for more international aid for Ukraine to help it either decommission or upgrade a dozen aging nuclear reactors. If Ukraine is lucky, the G-7 may even agree to secure financial aid to speed up economic reforms in the country. Chretien's policy nicely meshes domestic interests (Canada's one million Ukrainians will be watching closely, not to mention our nuclear industry) with international ones. Germany and France are said to be strong supporters in the bid to prevent another Chernobyl.
Chretien will also be looking for support in his push to get the new World Trade Organization off the ground. He may find an ally in Francois Mitterrand, the elder statesman of G-7 summitry. The French president will be advocating a new relationship between the developed North and the developing South and a WTO would surely be key to that relationship. The developing countries are eagerly waiting for heavily protected areas in the industrialized nations, such as agriculture and textiles, to be opened up to them. It would take a strong WTO to pry open those doors.
These are only a few of the ''planned'' topics for discussion. They could just as easily be pushed aside by the crises of the day that have a tendency to elbow their way on to the leaders' agendas; the tenuous situation in Bosnia is one candidate, the performance of the US$ another.
But no matter what finally makes it on the table in Naples, the real value of summitry comes from simply getting the leaders to sit around it.
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Revised: June 3, 1995
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