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The G8 leaders gathering in L’Aquila, Italy for their annual summit have an opportunity to help developing countries escape the worst impacts of the financial downturn. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s ambitious agenda for the meeting outlines a list of priorities that directly affect short- and long-term development in these countries. The agenda includes climate change, development in Africa, dialogue with developing countries, and the Millennium Goals. Berlusconi also promoted the importance of boosting food security and trade in a recent meeting with President Obama.

The attention to poor countries in a moment when rich countries are struggling with their own economic challenges signals a recognition that the G8 leaders must take a global view when establishing their policies. But poor countries need more than signals. They need developed countries to follow through on old commitments and make new commitments that improve their economic opportunities. Here’s a short G8 wish list from four CGD experts:

Trade

Kim Elliott, Senior Fellow

"While the G8 members grant African countries decent access to their markets, they could do better. For example, if president Obama was serious about improving trade with Africa, he would abolish sugar quotas that limit the amount of sugar many African countries can export to the United States. Some countries can’t even export a granule."

Climate Change

David Wheeler, Senior Fellow

"We are entering the critical period for climate negotiations that will conclude at Copenhagen in December. The details are complex, but the big picture is clear: We will not avoid a climate crisis if developing countries do not accept carbon emissions limits, but they will not accept limits unless the G8 nations lead by example and provide serious financial support for mitigation in the developing countries. The G8 in turn are unlikely to move strongly unless the U.S. provides leadership. For President Obama, this is a defining historical moment. Either he leads us out of this impending crisis, or we are in deep trouble."

Development in Africa

John Simon, Visiting Fellow

"Since many African countries are closer to the margins than developed countries, their vulnerability to financial downturns is much greater. The G8 countries are occupied by their domestic problems, but they should follow through on aid commitments to Africa from the 2005 G8 summit and utilize all the other levers at their disposal to support the Continent, including trade and political support for the hard won reforms Africans have made this past decade."

Food Security

Rachel Nugent, Deputy Director, Global Health

"The G8 will likely talk in great length about ensuring there’s enough food for the global population, but making sure people eat the right kind of food is just as important. Fatty chips, sugary sodas, and oily tortillas make up an acceptable meal for the poor in many Latin American countries, and that’s why heart disease, diabetes, and strokes are on the rise. Similarly unhealthy diets predominate in other parts of the developing world. If the G8 wants to get real with their food security policy, they’ll make sure that people have access to enough food and enough healthy food."

As the G8 summit unfolds, let’s see if these heads of state can lead in more ways than economic output.

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.