With their carefully scripted agendas, the annual summits of leaders from the world’s seven leading industrial democracies have sought to put a veneer of managerial competence on the turbulent global economy. But critics complain that since the summits began 14 years ago, they have increasingly sacrificed substance for style. Now, as the Western leaders prepare for next month’s summit meeting in Toronto, Canadian officials are trying to ensure that the June 19 to 21 sessions will be more productive. When Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, the conference host, visits summit participants in Europe this week that goal is one of the issues that he is expected to raise. His five days of talks begin with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in London on Monday and conclude with Italian Prime Minister Ciriaco De Mita in Rome on Friday. The consensus on the Toronto summit, said an official of the external affairs department before Mulroney’s departure, “is that it should be a businesslike summit oriented to economic issues.”
Officials in Mulroney’s office said that his talks with European leaders would be low-key affairs, intended, as tradition dictates, for Mulroney to hear what issues each of them planned to bring to the summit’s agenda. But in Paris, where Mulroney was to meet with French President François Mitterrand, he was also expected to discuss the dispute over Atlantic fishing boundaries with Prime Minister Michel Rocard after visiting West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Bonn. Mulroney also planned to meet with European Community president Jacques Delors. He met with President Ronald Reagan last April in Washington and Japanese Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita last January in Toronto.
One of Canada’s summit aims is to get the annual meetings back on an economic track and away from political issues such as international terrorism, which have dominated recent summits. Mulroney was also expected to try to
convince his summit colleagues of the merits of a Canadian initiative to change the format of the meetings. Past summits, particularly last year’s tightly scheduled gathering in Venice, have been criticized for abandoning the spirit of informality that is widely associated with the earliest summits. Said University of Toronto political scientist John Kirton, director of the
municipal program on the 1988 Toronto summit: “The early summits were more structured than people care to remember. But everybody now realizes that if the Venice experience was repeated, the summit concept would die.” As a result, Canadian conference organizers have added an extra half-day of informal economic discussions before the summit’s traditional first event, the opening dinner. As well, the seven summit participants will hold another open discussion on long-term economic objectives on the second day. Canadian officials are trying to change
the recent practice in which the final summit communiqué—a bland statement of generalities—was roughed out even before the summits began. Instead, they are proposing that it should be written after the summit discussions have finished—and reflect some of the content of those discussions.
Still, many economists said that the recent economic forecasts for the Western nations would dampen any enthusiasm for bold initiatives on such issues as Third World debt, the U.S. trade deficit, and long-standing North American grievances over European agricultural subsidies. In Paris last week the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development predicted that the economies of the industrial world will grow by three per cent this year. “Since too much criticism and finger-pointing scares the international financial markets, the leaders are likely to keep their statements low-key,” said Cynthia Latta, a senior financial economist at the respected Lexington, Mass.based Data Resources. “I expect they will crow about their economies and just eat, drink and be merry.” But Mulroney’s bid to keep the conference focused on economics will likely be put temporarily aside if Reagan decides to give the other participants a firsthand briefing on the results of his May 29 to June 2 meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. At the same time, observers predicted that, with less than eight months left in his presidency, few initiatives could be expected from Reagan at the summit. Nor was Japan’s recently elected Takeshita u expected to take a forceful role at the summit. Said Michael Donnelly, director of Toronto’s Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies: “Like the others, Takeshita will likely abide by the unwritten summit rule to make the host leader look good.” For Mulroney, who has carefully tried to cultivate an image as an international statesman, that approach could provide a rejuvenating political tonic in a possible election year. But it also suggested that the Toronto summit is unlikely to be very different from its stylish, but for the most part unproductive, predecessors.
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