Leaders of the world's major industrial countries, representing 85 percent of the global economy, will meet in Canada starting Friday for economic summits of the Group of Eight and G-20 nations. A look at selected countries and their leaders:
President Barack Obama has endured a rough two months, struggling to come to grips with the nation's worst oil spill. But White House officials contend the president is coming into the G-20 summit from a position of strength, with an economic recovery in the United States starting to gain traction. They said pending financial overhaul legislation in Congress gives Obama a strong bargaining position in his talks with other G-20 leaders. Obama wrote a letter to his G-20 colleagues last week urging them not to waver in their coordinated response to the global financial crisis. But many countries, worried about exploding government deficits, are resisting his calls for sustained stimulus spending. At home, Obama is having trouble getting a scaled-down jobs bill through Congress.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the host for the summit, is urging G-20 leaders to cut their budget deficits in half by 2013. That's a tougher approach than the one being pushed by Obama, who is continuing to urge that countries avoid the mistakes of the 1930s, when stimulus was withdrawn too quickly. Harper has come under criticism over the projected costs of the three-day summit, including $1 billion for security and $2 million to construct a fake indoor lake in the media center. In addition to getting G-20 commitments on deficit reduction targets, Canada is continuing to oppose a bank tax, arguing such a tax would not be fair to Canada, which avoided bank failures during the financial crisis. Harper has made maternal and children's health care top foreign-aid initiatives at the talks.
Japan's new prime minister, Naoto Kan, who took office earlier this month, will make his diplomatic debut at the G-8 and G-20 summits. Kan took office after Yukio Hatoyama abruptly quit after just eight months in office, when his approval ratings plunged over his broken campaign promise to move a U.S. airbase off the island of Okinawa. Kan has said "fiscal reconstruction" will be his top agenda item at the Toronto meetings. He said Monday that Japan will soon start debating a possible sales tax increase to rein in the nation's bulging deficits, the product of two decades of government efforts to jump-start the economy. A fiscal hawk and a social progressive, Kan repeated warnings that Japan could face a crisis similar to the one that has crippled Greece if it doesn't move forcefully to deal with its debt problems.
This will be the first G-20 meeting for British Prime Minister David Cameron, who took office in May after his Conservative Party formed a coalition government that ended 13 years of Labor Party rule. Cameron campaigned on a platform of reducing Britain's huge budget deficits and accused Prime Minister Gordon Brown of underestimating the extent of the debt crisis. Cameron's government unveiled an emergency budget Tuesday that included higher taxes and the toughest cuts in public spending in decades. Cameron has said the measures are needed to reassure international investors worried about a British budget deficit that equals 10.2 percent of the country's economy, a percentage in line with the current U.S. deficit. A Cameron spokesman said Obama and Cameron discussed the BP oil spill in a phone call Tuesday and the two leaders would cover the issue again during a one-on-one meeting Saturday.
While French President Nicolas Sarkozy claimed credit for the role France played in the rescue effort of the euro after the Greek debt crisis hit, the French people are wary of the impending cuts to deal with France's own budget deficit. According to French media reports, Sarkozy complained to aides that "in Greece, they call me a savior, unlike what they call me here." Sarkozy's government has announced a plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 by 2018, provoking outrage in a country where government workers as young as 50 can retire. Sarkozy has joined with Germany in an effort to push for a more ambitious effort on the part of G-20 countries to overhaul what he sees as lax financial regulations that triggered the global financial crisis.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's popularity is sliding after a shaky first eight months for her new center-right coalition. The government has annoyed Germans with constant public squabbling. In the wake of the European debt crisis, it pushed through an unpopular financial rescue package for Greece and a backup plan for other heavily indebted countries that use the common euro currency. Merkel's government has drawn up a plan to save $98 billion in the German budget through 2014. A recent poll showed that 86 percent of people were dissatisfied with the government's work, the worst showing for any German administration in six years. At the G-20, Merkel will join with Sarkozy to push for greater regulation of financial markets. She would like to see a new tax imposed on banks to help pay the costs of future crises.
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has seen his popularity hurt by the government austerity measures being taken to deal with Italy's budget problems in the wake of the European debt crisis. He has proposed cuts to Italy's bloated bureaucracy and a crackdown on tax evasion as part of an effort to reduce the government's deficit to under 3 percent of GDP by 2012, an improvement from 5.3 percent in 2009. The measures are being debated in Parliament and some sectors have threatened strikes over proposed cuts of up to 30 percent of their salaries. A general strike has been called for June 25. Berlusconi is two years into a five-year term in alliance with the anti-immigration North League.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev enjoys high popularity but his mentor and predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, remains more popular. Medvedev is still considered largely a caretaker president until Putin decides to reassume power. The next Russian election is in 2012. Russia's economy contracted 7.9 percent last year, the largest drop among the G-8 countries. At the summit, Russia will be interested in efforts to reform the international financial architecture. Medvedev has said he will put forward proposals to reform international auditing standards.
Chinese President Hu Jintao delivered the biggest surprise in the run-up to the summit: In the face of intense pressure from the United States and other countries, Beijing agreed to allow its currency to resume rising in value against the dollar. American manufacturers contend that China has manipulated its currency to gain unfair trade advantages. By agreeing to resume allowing the currency to appreciate, Hu removed a contentious issue from the G-20 agenda. China escaped the worst of the global economic crisis by pushing a torrent of bank loans and government spending through the economy. The result was high growth and strong employment but also soaring property prices and fears the lending spree might leave banks with heavy debts. Now there are also worries that Europe's debt crisis will crimp Chinese exports to its biggest foreign market.
Since the global economic crisis, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has become a leading voice for the developing world and a critic of rich nations. Last week, he called the financial systems of rich nations "rotten." While Brazil's constitution bars him for running for another term, his hand-picked successor is Dilma Rouseff, his former chief of staff. At the moment, she is in a dead heat in the polls with opposition candidate Jose Serra from the Brazilian Social Democratic Party. Silva would like his legacy to be as a developing-world leader who finally forced rich nations to make significant structural changes to the global economic order. He has pushed for changes to give developing countries more voice at multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.
India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says his billion-plus population needs to see economic growth of 10 percent a year to eradicate chronic poverty. India has bounced back faster than expected from the global financial crisis and had economic growth of 8.6 percent in the January-March quarter, the best in two years. Inflation is a problem, with food inflation stuck in double digits for over a year, forcing many to cut back on what they see as luxury purchases of fruit and meat. The high inflation has become a political issue with opposition politicians, making it difficult for the ruling Congress Party-led coalition to get rid of costly fuel subsidies that strain the budget. Singh is expected to continue his drive to get more of a voice for developing countries at the IMF and World Bank.
Associated Press writers Martin Crutsinger in Washington, Rob Gillies in Toronto, Malcolm Foster, Mari Yamiguchi and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo, Jane Wardell in London, Emma Vandore and Christina Okello in Paris, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Colleen Barry in Milan, Gary Peach in Moscow, Charles Hutzler in Beijing, Bradley Brooks in Rio de Janeiro and Erika Kinetz in Mumbai contributed to this report.