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G8 Forum in Cambridge

nickleberry | 14.06.2004 17:50 | Analysis | Globalisation | Cambridge

Last Thursday, the Cambridge Action Network (CAN) organised a forum on the subject of the G8, to coincide with the end of the G8-summit in Georgia, USA. This was the last in a series of events that took place in Cambridge including a film screening and some street-theatre. Here's what I took from the evening...

The forum kicked off with a series of short talks on different aspects of the G8. This proved a very effective and politically non-hierarchical way of communicating - there were no experts here, instead different people had spent some time in the previous week researching a particular aspect of the G8 and they shared what they had learnt.

At the end of the forum a discussion took place about what people want to do about the G8 coming to Scotland next year. How are we to respond to this?


The institution of the G8 was critiqued with keywords being war, the armstrade, anti-environmentalism, authoritarianism and capitalism. The history of the G8 was examined in the context of the development of capitalism after World War 2. The seeds of the G8 (US, UK, West Germany and France) first met in 1973 at a time when capitalism seemed to be threatened in the first world (with strong unions and social democracy) and in the third world where decolonised countries were embracing other models than the capitalist one. These four countries' aim was to create a new world system to ensure a stable capitalist economy.

The G8 has, since then, involved into a behemoth. According to its website its current aims include fighting famine, eradicating polio, reducing poverty and fighting H.I.V. It also has a very worthy scheme - "turtle tracks" - which aims to promote environmental stewardship "in keeping with President Bush's emphasis on environmental quality...". You can even name your own turtle. Wow, cool.

More info:

Some concerns about the G8 were raised though - it seems even the most worthy institutions can have their negative side. The G8 has no constitution or charter, no procedure or accountability. Most major initiatives in the UN, WTO, IMF, World Bank and OECD come from the G8 but, despite this, there is no transparency in the process by which such initiatives are taken.

The G8 also plays a big part in the Arms Trade which is a bit fucked-up. Two thirds of all conventional weapons trading come from five of the eight nations. Although the G8 have agreed to the principle of not selling arms to human rights abusers sometimes the odd tank/ machine gun/ helicopter gunship sneeks through. Astonishment. There are a number of loopholes - laws are just bypassed; governments use commercial confidentiality rules to avoid having to see the truth; governments use over-riding reasons (war on drugs/ terrorists/ bearded people) to sanction selling weapons to killers; governments sell trading licenses to third parties who act as middle men; governments sell spare parts rather than the whole product; governments provide training and `police support.'

More info:

One of the major recipients of these loopholes has been Iraq. A major concern was raised about the management of Iraqi debt, 50-90% of which came from Saddam's weapons purchases (mainly from the G8). Maintaining this debt allows creditor nations to maintain control over Iraq, despite APPARENTLY handing sovereignty over to that nation on 30 June.

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Of course debt has crippling effects on other nations than Iraq and this was also examined. With the end of the Bretton Woods system in the 1970s, currencies started fluctuating and countries found themselves in debt that could never be repaid. In 1982 Mexico defaulted on its debt and the ground shifted... The IMF was given the job of `rescheduling' loans and tying them to economic restructuring. This was a new role for the IMF which had not necessarily been a friend of the capitalist cause in the past. Since that time however the IMF has played a large role in enforcing conditions on indebted countries - these conditions are undemocratic and often suffocating. The G8 nations of course have a big say in what these conditions will be.

In the wake of the Jubilee debt campaign, some of the creditor nations agreed to cancel some of the debt so that it could be made `sustainable'. Some of this debt has indeed been cancelled but much remains - the conditions imposed on countries who were to have their debt cancelled were too strong as well as, once again, being undemocratically forced upon them. The Jubilee Debt Campaign has called for a body to replace the IMF which, instead, focuses on HUMANITARIAN debt relief not sustainable debt relief. They have also called for a global structure for national insolvency.

More info:

The G8's relation to the trading system was examined. The overriding theme seems to be that though the G8 nations profess a great love of free trade, their focus is mainly on OTHER PEOPLE trading freely while they carry on subsidising their own industries. The most obvious examples are in Agriculture where both the EU and the US subside their own farmers massively (US: $18 billion, EU: $50 billion). These subsidies go mainly to the large corporations (65% of US subsidies to ten producers) who then demand, and usually get, entry into overseas markets. These overseas markets are not allowed to subsidise their industries as it's against the rules. In February 2004 the US-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy revealed that subsideies enabled the big US farmers to export cotton in 2002 at 61% BELOW THE COST OF PRODUCTION. This is supposed to be against the rules but resorting to the WTO's dispute settlement procedures is expensive and few countries can match the technical and legal expertise of American trade teams.

The G8's role in encouraging privatisation was examined, particularly in relation to Pakistan. It is a common feature that privatisation is the first step towards market liberalisation (liberalisation meaning `fixing the market to let overseas companies enter and control it'). In Pakistan for instance energy was privatised but, because of the high risk nature of the Pakistani energy market, the government had to provide guarantees - namely that they would buy 60% of the grid supply at three times the original cost. The Pakistani experience explodes a number of myths: that privatisation = competition (instead state monopoly became private monopoly); that privatisation = cheaper prices (energy prices increased, de-industrialisation followed); privatisation starts development (local industries couldn't compete and folded).

A particularly sinister example was cited in the privatisation of education in Pakistan. Governments in developed countries are encouraging third world countries to allow private education which is usually of a much higher standard than government education. This turns education into a commodity and universities into export processing zones - they serve first world countries with cheap products (educated people come from Pakistan to a G8 country); they provide a place to outsource (services like call-centres can be relocated to places with poor wages but skilled workers). The interest is not in universal education but in education for as many as first world capitalism requires.


In the light of the issues expounded above, discussion focussed on if, and how, we want to respond to the G8 summit coming to Scotland next year. It was felt that it is important to build up a vital movement that can respond to the summit over the particular three days, but also maintain itself and build locally over a much longer period of time. How then to politicize the local community?

This was the question which occupied the remaining time. Education was seen as key, but in a particular sense. Not just book learning - education as consumption of facts - but education as part of a political process which allows people to engage in the world around them and makes them feel empowered. A key aspect of this education process is learning, but it is not the only aspect: people should be inspired, they should feel hope; people should be able to act, they should be able to respond to the issues that are examined; people should be able to reflect on what they have done and consider how to move forward.

How this is to take place is not yet clear - it is hoped that a cycle of action and reflection/ discussion will begin to take shape over coming months. This cycle will hopefully involve copious quantities of people responding to the G8 summit next year, as well as being part of an ongoing, sustainable and vibrant movement.

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