HOKKAIDO, JAPAN // Leaders of the world's richest countries began arriving in northern Japan today for a summit aimed at tackling record food and oil prices. Authorities sealed off Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, with demonstrations relegated to the island's largest city of Sapporo where four people were arrested yesterday. The US president George Bush flew into Sapporo airport, about 150 kilometres from Hokkaido, today ahead of talks with the Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda and then a meeting of the club of the world's rich nations. Leaders of the Group of Eight industrialised nations will tomorrow begin three days of annual talks in the mountain resort town of Toyako on northern Hokkaido island that will be dominated by the fragile world economy and global warming.
Security was formidable across the picturesque region, with around 21,000 police deployed to protect the leaders as they huddle in a luxury hilltop hotel in a bid to solve the world's most pressing problems. "The participants this year will discuss global issues, including the immediate dangers posed by the soaring prices of crude oil and foodstuffs as well as climate change," Mr Fukuda said in a statement.
"They will also discuss international assistance to African development and the dual threats to world peace posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism." The leaders of the G8 - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Russia and the United States - will be joined by those of some 15 other countries, including China, India, Brazil, Australia and eight African states for expanded sessions on global warming and poverty alleviation.
The German chancellor Angela Merkel said the G8 leaders would agree on steps to fight the soaring price of food and to guarantee supplies. "A vast catalogue of measures to guarantee food supplies worldwide" is expected to be adopted, Ms Merkel told the Tagesspiegel am Sonntag newspaper. The steps will provide short-term relief to the crisis and a long-term strategy to increase the world agricultural production.
G8 finance ministers warned last month that record oil and food prices pose "a serious challenge to stable growth worldwide" and may worsen poverty and stoke inflation. Japanese press reports have said the G8 would likely agree to set up a task force on the food crisis. Climate change will top the agenda on Wednesday when the expanded group of nations meets. The leaders are expected to pledge to take the lead in efforts to halve emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 after agreeing a year ago to "consider seriously" the goal of at least halving worldwide emissions by 2050.
But faced with huge resistance no significant progress is expected, officials have predicted. Mr Fukuda has given up hope of setting targets for cuts in carbon emissions for the period immediately after the Kyoto Protocol's obligations run out in 2012. Mr Bush, who is attending his last G8, argues that the summit is not the right forum to make hard decisions on climate change as it does not include rapidly growing emerging economies.
The G8 leaders' final statement is also expected to "strongly condemn" the Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe following his re-election in a June 27 election that has been widely denounced as a sham, the White House said. While Hokkaido will mark President Bush's G8 swansong, it will be the first for Prime Minister Fukuda, Russia's new President Dmitry Medvedev, the British prime minister Gordon Brown and the South Korea president Lee Myung-Bak.
Major leaders from the developing world, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and the South African president Thabo Mbeki, will also attend G8 events. *AFP