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Canadian Foreign Policy and the Seven Power Summits

Timothy Heeney

Country Study Number One
Centre for International Studies
University of Toronto
May 1988

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According to Putnam and Bayne and one participant, this summit was almost spectacularly poor, especially in terms of economic issues.(122 )The leaders endorsed the work of the G-7, the OECD and other international bodies but did not make any significant progress on the issues. As with previous slow summits, this can be attributed to electoral concerns in some member countries, specifically Britain and Italy, with the spectre of presidential elections in the USA and France also beginning to emerge. Reagan was also under severe criticism at home for his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal. Consequently, the leaders discouraged policy change, preferring to reinforce previous policies and policies made in other forums to arrive at a harmonious outcome. It also helped that there were no mayor economic crises facing the global economy at this point, except perhaps the size of the US budget and trade deficits which were hardly discussed.

Since the Tokyo summit, the G-7 had continued to play an active role in international economic policy coordination with the Louvre Accord of February 1987 and a subsequent meeting in April. The principal economic issues at Venice were the plight of the developing countries, the Uruguay Round of MTN and agricultural trade problems. There were some long discussions, particularly on agriculture, but there were no new initiatives sponsored or mentioned in the communiqué. There were a record number of non-economic statements on issues such as East-West relations, the Persian Gulf, South Africa, AIDS, and the global narcotics trade. The last two of these issues were only mentioned very briefly by the leaders during the summit but were forced into the communiqué by junior ministers in the case of AIDS and Nancy Reagan in the case of drugs.(123)

Considering the lack of substance of the Venice summit and the crash of the world stock markets in October 1987, the best characterization of the event comes from the Globe and Mail which headlined , ''Sleep-walking seven ignore clamour from the marketplace.." (124)

Admission into the G-7 at Tokyo had given Canada a role to play in economic policy coordination between summits, although the G-5 did exclude Canada and Italy from the short opening session of the Paris meetings of February 1987. Italy responded to this by refusing to take part in the rest of the meetings. In contrast, Canadian Finance Minister Michael Wilson patiently and maturely accepted his exclusion from the first meeting, took part in the rest of the talks and signed the resulting Louvre Accord.(125) Canada was no longer excluded from the increasingly important finance minister's meetings which had begun to set the agenda for the world economy to a greater extent than the summit itself.

In contrast to Mulroney's showman-like behaviour at previous the Globe and Mail reported that he arrived quietly and immediately went into deep retreat. (126) There were two issues which were of specific interest to Canada in agricultural trade and South Africa. Prime Minister had met with the leaders of the Cairns Group of agricultural producers in Ottawa immediately prior to the summit. Along with the USA, Canada wanted to ensure that agricultural be an issue at the GATT talks in Geneva and at the Uruguay Round in progress.(127 )There was no actual bargaining at Venice but there was support for including agriculture in all GATT talks, a result which Mulroney announced would contribute towards a long term solution.(128)

A similar result was obtained on the South African issue. Mulroney personally felt very strongly about the situation in South Africa, just as Trudeau had felt strongly about the North-South dialogue and peace. Mulroney brought South Africa up at the summit table not in the hope of arriving at a quick solution but, as he put it himself:

Opposition from Kohl and Thatcher prevented South Africa from being mentioned in the official political statements, but it was mentioned in Italian leader Fanfani's summary of the conference. The Canadian delegation also continued to pursue the North-South debt issue at Venice. It proposed, along with France and Britain, a structural adjustment facility for the IMF.(130 )This did not get mentioned in the final communiqué but was given serious consideration by the summit leaders and was a good candidate to emerge as an issue again in 1988. During the North-South discussion, Mulroney telephoned Kenneth Kaunda, President of Zambia, to inform him that he was using his country as an illustration of the need for greater assistance to the developing nations.(131) This is a clear example of how Canada's connections with other countries through the Commonwealth, la francophonie, Cairns Group, and others provides an informal link to the summit for many of the world's disadvantaged who do not have an official representative in the summit club. Canada does not see itself as an official representative, but can bring the perspective of others to the Summit table in a way that possibly only Britain and France can match.

Source: Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto.

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