Summit leaders see results of deeper cooperation. Debt relief deal tops efforts for sounder world economic policies
The plunge in world stock-market prices last October had a useful consequence: It resulted in a ``more comprehensive and deeper'' discussion of practical economic policy measures among the Group of Seven industrial nations, according to Canadian Finance Minister Michael Wilson. At their annual summit here, the seven political leaders intend to extend that cooperation in the hope of avoiding another collapse in the bond or stock markets. They are, for instance, studiously avoiding any cries of alarm over a potential rebirth of inflation, warnings that could set off market panics.
They also have worked out a deal to provide poor nations in sub-Saharan Africa with some form of debt relief. The finance ministers agreed in principle to a debt relief plan in which the Group of Seven would share a portion of the cost. The Paris Club, a grouping of the major creditor nations that deals with government-owed debt, will work out the details, including which countries will get relief.
Some nations might actually forgive the debt, while others would reduce interest rates or extend payments. France has argued for forgiving a portion of the debt owed by sub-Saharan countries, referred to as ``the poorest of the poor.
The seven seem less likely to have much success in tackling the problem of farm subsidies. In both Japan and Western Europe, farm blocs have political clout. The Europeans continue to maintain that subsidies should be reduced slowly.
The US went into the summit hoping that it could get a strong statement from the leaders to give the trade negotiators working on agricultural issues for the new round of tariff negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Now, Marlin Fitzwater, President Reagan's spokesman says, ``We realize that it will not be resolved at this summit. Nor do we expect any sweeping conclusions or admonitions or directions on agriculture to come out of this summit.''
Economic policy coordination and cooperation among these leading industrial nations has been enhanced by personal summit connections. Each leader has a ``sherpa,'' or personal representative, to help organize the agenda and formulate a final communiqu'e that may include concrete agreements.
Lord Robert Armstrong, who was British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's sherpa for eight years prior to this year, notes ``the high degree of direct and open exchange of news, of the personal understanding, respect and friendship, and of the sense of collegiality which has developed among the personal representatives.''
Even more important is the personal relationship among the seven political leaders. Lord Armstrong terms this ``an important ingredient in the value and success of economic summits. There is no doubt that the view is different from the top.''
At this summit, US President Reagan is a political lame duck. There are reports that his initial comments were brief, and that the US has not shown strong leadership here. This makes the Canadians anxious because Prime Minister Brian Mulroney hopes for a successful summit as a boost to his political prospects.
Mrs. Thatcher, the senior member of the summit, has ``come on like gangbusters,'' as one source said. On Sunday, she spoke of how the first summits through 1980 were characterized by inflation and OPEC-induced oil hikes. The next seven years to 1988 were used to get inflation down, tackle tax reform, boost investment, and deal with so-called ``structural'' factors, she said. Now the seven were on the threshold of a third cycle where the fruits of their adjustments could be enjoyed.
But she noted that sound economic policies at home and cooperation would have to continue.
Armstrong says the summits have made the development of the world economy ``better managed and more positive than ... if summits did not occur.''