FACTBOX: The Group of Eight: what is it?

Thu Jul 3, 2008 5:49am BST

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(Reuters) - Leaders of the world's major powers will meet July 7-9 in Toyako, a hot spring resort town on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, for their annual Group of Eight summit.

Here are some key facts on the G8.

* WHO BELONGS?

-- The G8 is an unofficial forum of the heads of the leading industrialized democracies: Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Japan, the United States, Canada (since 1976) and Russia (since 1998). The European Commission has also been represented in all the sessions since the Ottawa Summit in 1981.

-- The first summit in France in 1975 was called to settle a dispute over currencies, but meetings were soon expanded to discuss broad economic policy matters.

* RUSSIA:

-- Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia became increasingly involved in the G8 process between 1993 and 1998. The Group of Eight was constituted at the Birmingham Summit in 1998 with Russia as a member.

-- At Kananaskis in 2002, the leaders decided Russia should assume the G8 Presidency for the first time in 2006 and the first summit under a Russian presidency was held in St. Petersburg in July 2006.

* WHAT DOES THE GROUP DO?

-- The G8 meets to deal with the major economic and political issues facing member countries and the international community.

-- Questions of macroeconomic management, international trade, relations with developing countries, East-West economic relations, energy, and terrorism have also been of recurrent concern.

-- More recently, employment and the Internet, the environment, crime and drugs, and a host of political-security issues ranging from human rights through regional security to arms control have been discussed.

-- Climate change will be high on the agenda in Hokkaido, after leaders agreed last year in Germany to seriously consider a goal of halving global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

* PARTICIPANTS:

-- The heads of state or government of the G8 countries will take part. G8 leaders have invited the heads of seven African countries to meet on July 7, and an expanded meeting of the G8 plus eight other major economies including China and India will take place on July 9 to discuss climate change.

Sources: Reuters, G8 websites.

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