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Prime Minister Jean Chretien, U.S. President Bill Clinton and six other leaders start arriving here today for the annual three-day summit of the world's leading industrialized countries.
With Russia taking a leading role, this year the G7 summit becomes the Denver Summit of the Eight.
Chretien flies in from Ottawa late today to launch a series of short pre-summit bilateral meetings with all the leaders except Clinton.
Canadian officials insisted that Clinton was not snubbing Chretien but that the two had talked recently. As well, there may be chance ``meetings in the corridors'' during the weekend summit, they said.
The summit formally gets under way Friday and wraps up Sunday with a communique pledging international co-operation on a wide number of topics that do not dwell heavily on global trade and economics.
``The  Halifax summit set a new tone for summits where the distinctions between political and economic issues have blurred,'' said a senior Canadian official.
Clinton has added improving trade relations with African countries to the top items on his agenda, which will also include highlighting the strength of the U.S. economy and bringing Russia into the 22-year-old G7.
``I will ask our partners to join us in urging the international financial institutions ... to create innovative new programs so that reforming African nations can succeed in integrating themselves into the global economy,'' Clinton said.
Clinton wants to give some of the poorest countries in Africa duty-free access for 1,800 products, while African nations ``undertaking concerted reforms'' for their economies would be allowed to ship products to the U.S. under reduced tariffs.
According to the World Bank, 37 out of 48 sub-Saharan African countries are launching serious economic reforms, including liberalizing trade barriers, privatizing state enterprises and easing investment laws.
``African countries are opening up to foreign investment, including allowing companies to repatriate capital,'' said Jack Goth, executive director of Denver Gold Group. The organization helps raise investment capital for North American gold mining companies.
Already, the African initiatives have attracted criticism, largely from U.S. academics, who complain that it is unfair not to include African leaders in the summit.
As well, the Denver summit is designed to give Russian President Boris Yeltsin international exposure and credibility to set the stage for Russia's inclusion in the group as well as other international organizations such as the World Trade Organization.
It is still unclear how far Clinton will get in pushing his agenda, officials said.
The European leaders will be arriving distracted by their own problems trying to develop a single currency and may not be interested in aggressive new strategies for Africa, a Canadian official said. And Russia still faces significant economic problems, including an inability to pay World Bank loans because it cannot collect domestic taxes.
Chretien supports many of the Clinton initiatives, but also plans to push an environmental agenda ahead of next Monday's meeting in New York of the United Nations general assembly on environment.
Ottawa is leading a campaign to abandon pledges made in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to dramatically cut global greenhouse gas emissions.
``We were dreaming in Rio,'' said one Canadian official.
Ottawa is 8% short of its pledge to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2000, while the G7 countries together are about 10% short. Only Germany and Britain have met their goals.
Chretien is also going to try to persuade Clinton to support his initiative for international forestry rules. Although European countries support a sustainable forestry convention, the U.S. has already said it is not interested.
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