Though it was a British initiative, inviting Gorbachev to London in 1991 changed the nature of the G7 Summit. Having once invited the leader of the former super-power, it was impossible not to do so in every succeeding year, without giving a signal of no confidence which would upset the reform process. With the Russians invited every year, they are bound to push to become full Summit members, economic as well as political. But having the Russians present in the economic discussion creates its own problems. They are far down the list of the major world economies. They have little to contribute on the central themes of trade and finance and are not yet members of the WTO.
If Russia is let into the economic G7, it becomes hard to explain why other stronger economies are kept out. There is already an argument for admitting some large economies of the developing world, such as Brazil, India and especially China. The case for admitting China would be strengthened if there were also positive political change in Beijing. My own strong preference is for preserving the current composition of the economic G7. There is a balance between four Europeans and three non-Europeans. The group is small enough still for direct informal exchanges. It has a strong tradition of working together, which would be easily lost or diluted. It is less influential than it was, as others become more active in the world economic system. But it still contains the largest players in trade and finance.
In conclusion, almost any change brings risks and problems for Canada. If large developing countries move in, Canada, with a smaller domestic economy, could be edged out. If, after the single currency takes effect, the European Union decides to have only one seat, then three non-Europeans would no longer be justified. This, however, seems very unlikely the existing European Summit members will not want to forfeit their direct access to the US and Japan. If Quebec decides to leave, Canada could no longer keep its place in the G7.
So Canada, more than any other country, is best served by keeping the G7 in its present form. As long as Canada wishes to be active internationally, the G7 gives it a valuable means of direct influence on its largest partners and a channel for promoting its interests in wider multilateral institutions. It is in Canada's interest to preserve it.
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