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Wrap: G8 finance ministers discuss energy, poverty, terrorism


ST. PETERSBURG, June 10 (RIA Novosti) - The finance ministers from the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations met in St. Petersburg Saturday and discussed economic issues in advance of the G8 summit, focusing on energy security, and tackling poverty and terrorist financing.

Russia this year holds the rotating presidency of the G8 - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States - and will host the annual G8 summit for the first time in mid-July in St. Petersburg.

Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said the meeting was a success, and "confirms that St. Petersburg is not only a window to Europe but to the whole world." The minister also said the meeting highlighted Russia's integral role in the world community.

The finance ministers also held discussions with ministers from Australia, Brazil, the People's Republic of China, India, the Republic of Korea and Nigeria.

A joint communique released after the finance ministers' meeting said, "We discussed the current situation in the energy markets and the risks that high oil prices pose for the global economy going forward. We call for comprehensive action by both energy-producing and energy-consuming countries to facilitate investment in the energy sector, improve energy efficiency, including through national initiatives, and promote greater transparency and reliability in energy market data, including through development of a global common standard for reporting oil reserves."

"We recognize the importance of the principles of the Energy Charter, of diversification of energy markets and supply sources, and of strengthened emergency response cooperation in ensuring energy security."

Kudrin said after the meeting, "Russia has shared and will continue to share the principles of the Energy Charter, but we are not happy with certain things contained in agreements to the Energy Charter."

First of all, Kudrin said, the charter did not touch upon nuclear power development; Russia as a nuclear energy supplier would like this issue to be addressed in the document. Also, the minister said, the charter does not mention energy resource transit, which is of particular importance since transit principles have changed, and EU states are no longer transit countries.

In reference to the gas dispute between Russia and neighboring Ukraine at the beginning of the year, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow said that a satisfactory resolution had been reached, and that Russia was a reliable supplier of natural gas.

Italian Minister of Economy and Finance Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, when asked about risks related to energy supplies from Russia to the European Union, declined to discuss the issue.

The ministers also said, "We discussed the importance of delivering the commitments made in 2005 to help developing countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals. In this regard, we reaffirm the importance of energy for development and are issuing a separate statement on this issue."

The ministers said G8 countries intend to find means of boosting efforts to help poor countries to overcome energy poverty, and called for bilateral and multilateral donors to increase aid in this area.

The statement said, "We confirm our resolve to fight money laundering and terrorism financing and are committed to strengthening our systems for freezing assets and sharing information, and development of multilateral financial tools to disrupt criminal and illicit activities."

Alexei Kudrin said Iran and certain other states should be integrated into the international system of combating money laundering and terrorism financing.

"These countries should be integrated into the system," he said.

John Snow also said Russia could join the World Trade Organization before the G8 summit. He told journalists that this issue had been discussed at the meeting, and that his country would like to see Russia as a member of the WTO. However, Snow said there was still work to be carried in order for Russia to join.

The U.S. treasury secretary said that over the past three years the G8 had made huge progress in preventing financing of international terrorism and money laundering.

The ministers' said in their communique, "We thank the World Bank and GAVI [Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization] for their technical work on Advance Market Commitments for vaccines and look forward to a successful launch of the AMC pilot project by the end of this year."

Italian Minister of Economy and Finance Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa said the pilot project should be discussed and moved forward.

Alexei Kudrin earlier said the project proposed financing purchases of vaccines, in particular against malaria and pneumococcal infections.

The Italian minister said certain G8 countries did not support the project, but that the issue remained open and could be addressed at the G8 summit.

The ministers' statement said, "We welcome the increasing role of new donor countries in financing development in low-income countries. We call for enhanced coordination among all members of the growing donor community, and alignment of aid programs with partner countries' development priorities. We deem it essential to prevent the buildup of unsustainable debt in low-income countries, particularly in those that receive debt relief under the HIPC [Heavily Indebted Poor Countries] Initiative and the MDRI [Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative]."

The U.S. treasury secretary said after the meeting donor countries were now playing a stronger role in developing poorer countries, and highlighted the importance of Russia's contribution to alleviating world poverty.

Kudrin said one of Russia's initiatives during the country's G8 presidency was to improve the level of the population's financial literacy.

He said financial literacy among populations was needed for countries' financial and other institutions to operate successfully.

"74% of the population said they were more afraid to fill a customs declaration and work with other financial documents than to go to the dentist," he said.

Kudrin also said Russia would announce a second tranche of repayment of Soviet-era commercial debt in one month's time.

The commercial debt of the former U.S.S.R. emerged as a result of exportation of goods and services by foreign companies, and has been estimated at $1.7 billion by Russia's Finance Ministry.

Kudrin said Russia had intensified its efforts towards full integration into the G8, including gaining an equal role in the group's financial discussions.

"This is a very good step for Russia toward real integration into the G8's financial mechanisms," Alexei Kudrin said, adding that he hoped formal restrictions on Russian participation in the G8 would be lifted.

The Russian finance minister also said the next meeting of G8 finance ministers would take place in Singapore in September, and would be chaired by one of the countries in the region.

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