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Experts Say G8 Summit Could Revive Stalled Trade Talks

Russia this weekend (July 15-17) for the first time is hosting the annual summit of eight major powers, the Group of Eight. VOA's economics correspondent Barry Wood reports that with the world economy holding up well under the strain of higher oil prices, the major economic issues likely to be discussed in St. Petersburg are energy and the stalled global talks to expand trade.

There was a time when these annual summits mostly concerned economic issues. That's no longer the case. Aside from an emphasis on poverty alleviation in Africa, recent summits -- like last year in Scotland -- have focused on security, terrorism, AIDS, and global conflict.

Anders Aslund, a Swedish scholar, is a researcher at the Institute of International Economics in Washington. He expects the problem of Iran's nuclear program will be a major topic for the leaders of Western Europe, Japan, Russia, Canada and the United States.

"Indeed Iran is obviously up there as a big issue. What will not be on the agenda are the traditional G8 topics, which are macro-economic imbalances, exchange rate issues and trade issues," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin wants energy security to be a major theme of the St. Petersburg meeting. But that issue itself is controversial since Russia earlier this year briefly halted its shipments through a gas pipeline to Western Europe because of a pricing dispute with Ukraine. The cutoff alarmed Russia's summit partners, calling into question Russia's reputation as a reliable supplier.

Many analysts believe the St. Petersburg summit is an opportunity for President Putin to present Russia as a responsible and rising economic power. Cliff Gaddy, a Russia specialist at Washington's Brookings Institution, says the summit could surprise skeptics by insisting that there be decisive action to complete the stalled World Trade Organization negotiations to expand trade. Vladimir Putin and the other leaders, he says, would be delighted if that happens.

"I would imagine it would not be the least bit difficult for him (Putin) to sign on to a statement calling for the success of the Doha round and the continued vibrancy of the WTO," said Mr. Gaddy.

Trade ministers have been working on the Doha round for years, without much success. The talks are stalled over agricultural subsidies in rich countries and market access in developing countries. Since the leaders of India, Brazil, China, South Africa and Mexico are coming to St. Petersburg, trade experts say a breakthrough is possible.

Scott Miller, an American business executive active in promoting the Doha round, says the G8 could save the negotiations. "I think a statement coming out of the summit would be very helpful. Certainly the round has gone for four and a half years.” Mr. Miller added, “We're disappointed in the progress thus far. And a jolt to the system would be quite useful."

Without some push on trade, action on Iran, or meaningful agreements on energy, say experts, the St. Petersburg summit could be just another meeting where little of substance is accomplished.