Harper urges G20 to follow economic accords

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the G20 countries should focus on following through on past agreements on economic co-operation when they meet later this year in Toronto.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, second from left, is joined by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, far left, Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, second right, and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, right, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday. ((Alessandro Della Bella/Keystone/Associated Press))

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the G20 countries should focus on following through on past agreements on economic co-operation when they meet later this year in Toronto.

Speaking Thursday in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum, Harper used his keynote address to outline the agenda for the G8 and G20 meetings that Canada will host next summer in Ontario's Muskoka region and Toronto, respectively.

The economic forum gathers together some of the world's most influential business leaders, intellectuals and political leaders.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses the forum. ((Frank Gunn/Canadian Press))

Speaking about the Group of 20 countries, Harper praised the agreements reached at earlier summits in Pittsburgh, Washington and London to promote economic stability after the global financial crisis.

"But an agreement to act is just a start," Harper said. "It is acting on the agreement that matters."

When the G20 meets in Toronto, he said, the discussion should be less about new agreements than accountability for existing ones.

Harper also praised Canada's financial and banking system, adding that his country will encourage stronger financial-sector regulation and improved co-ordination among regulators.

"But Canada will not go down the path of excessive, arbitrary or punitive regulation of its financial sector," he told the audience.

Harper also put forward ways that the Group of 8 industrialized countries can contribute to global peace and security, notably by fighting terrorism, piracy, climate change and nuclear proliferation.

Delayed approach to climate change

The prime minister also said that as host of the G8, "Canada will champion a major initiative to improve the health of women and children in the world's most vulnerable regions."

Following his speech, however, Harper was on the receiving end of some criticism of Canada's climate change policy.

During a roundtable discussion with five other world leaders, Harper said there are consequences of going green too quickly.

"A lot of the demands for targets or for actions — whether it's on developing or developed countries — will have very significant impacts on their economy," he said.

The prime minister said short-term emission goals can't be met without sinking economies, adding that the focus must be on developing new technologies that could reduce emissions down the road.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon was among those who disagreed with this approach.

"The cost of doing nothing now is higher than to take actions today," Calderon said.

South African President Jacob Zuma said the wait-and-see approach to climate change doesn't work for developing countries that face droughts and flooding.

"Some people are sitting comfortably with their developed economies — and some people are faced with very serious poverty," he said.

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak noted that world leaders are hesitant to set short-term goals but eager for longer-terms ones. He said that's because they all know they won't be around when those long-term deadlines come up.

Praise from Clinton

Earlier Thursday, former U.S. president Bill Clinton praised Canada for its generosity in response to the recent Haitian earthquake.

Clinton, a special United Nations envoy to Haiti and a key adviser to President Barack Obama on Haitian relief efforts, said Canadians should proud of the outpouring of support. Canadians have contributed more than $82.5 million thus far to the aid effort.

Clinton also asked the Davos audience for specific help, seeking 100 medium-sized trucks, plus toilets, sanitation specialists and, most important, cash.

with files from The Canadian Press