G-8 summit kicks off to discuss world economy, Syria

The leaders of the Group of Eight countries gathered for a summit in Northern Ireland on Monday to discuss ways to spur world growth, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe explaining his economic policies to fellow leaders and making his policies an international commitment.

Syria, where more than two years of civil war has sparked a humanitarian crisis, is expected to top the agenda on regional affairs to be discussed by the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States the same day.

During the first session, which focused on the world economy, Abe conveyed to his fellow leaders his determination to end nearly two decades of deflation and revive Japan's economy through his three-pronged approach, dubbed "Abenomics," a Japanese official said.

The "three arrows" represent aggressive monetary policy, massive fiscal spending and a growth strategy centered on deregulation and tax breaks on business investment.

Abe also made clear his intention to not just raise the sales tax from the current 5 percent to 8 percent next April but also increase it to 10 percent in October 2015 as planned if the economic environment is ready for such a move, according to the official.

He also explained Tokyo's goal of reducing the ratio of Japan's public debt to gross domestic product in a stable manner, stressing the importance of balancing fiscal rehabilitation and economic growth.

During the same session, one G-8 leader pointedly expressed concerns about the monetary easing steps implemented by Japan and the United States, asking what their "exit strategies" are and the danger of competitive currency devaluation they could set off, the official said, without identifying the speaker.

Another leader welcomed Abe's efforts to promote economic growth, the same official said, adding that most of the participants made remarks echoed the essence of the Abenomics policies.

Meanwhile, three of the leaders who gathered at the Lough Erne golf resort, this year's venue of the annual G-8 summit, pointed out China's large trade surplus as a matter that needs considering.

"I received positive evaluations from the leaders of other countries about Japan's economic policy," Abe told reporters after the session, adding that other leaders saw the Japanese economy, which he said is on the recovery track, as positive for the world economy.

G-8 leaders, he said, discussed the need to work on rehabilitating their finances, while at the same time seeking growth and working to reduce unemployment among young people.

Before a session on regional affairs, which is expected to focus on Syria, Abe told reporters in Lough Erne that during the session, he plans to argue for an immediate stop to violence in Syria, and call on President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

In the same session, the Japanese leader is expected to lead discussions on North Korea, which is continuing its nuclear and missile activities in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning such moves.

During the two-day meeting, the leaders are also expected to address counterterrorism efforts in northern and western Africa following the Algerian hostage standoff in January, tax avoidance by multinational corporations, efforts to resist trade protectionism, and transparency in business transactions before wrapping up with a leaders' declaration on Tuesday.

On the sidelines of the G-8 summit on Monday, Abe met bilaterally with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta. He is also set to meet face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin later in the day.

But he does not plan to sit down with U.S. President Barack Obama or French President Francois Hollande for bilateral talks during the summit as Abe recently spoke with Obama by phone and met with Hollande during his trip to Japan, according to the officials.

Abe, who went to Lough Erne from Belfast in the morning, also held talks with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on the fringes later Monday.

Also on the fringes of the G-8 summit, Obama, Cameron and the two EU leaders declared that the United States and the European Union, which together account for roughly half of the world's economic output, will enter into negotiations for a free trade agreement next month, a move that would create the world's largest free trade zone.

This year's summit is the second G-8 leaders' meeting for Abe, who became prime minister last December for the second time. He attended the 2007 summit in Heiligendamm in Germany when he served as prime minister for a year until September 2007.