Harper and G20 leaders at Mexico summit breathe sigh of relief after Greek vote

LOS CABOS, Mexico – Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other world leaders at a meeting of the world’s 20 most important economies can breathe a little easier after a political party that favours staying in the eurozone came in first in Greece’s national elections Sunday.

All eyes at the G20 summit at the Mexican desert resort of Los Cabos were on the Greek election. A win by one of the parties that wanted to tear up Greece’s huge bailout deals threatened to send ripples through financial markets and set the stage for the country’s exit from the 17-member bloc of nations that use the euro.

A win by Greece’s anti-austerity parties in Sunday’s election could have resulted in the country defaulting on its debts and getting kicked out of the eurozone.

Many Greeks strongly reject the tough austerity measures, such as cuts in public sector pay and pensions, imposed upon Greece in return for its two multibillion-euro rescue packages to help pay off the country’s massive debt.

Last month, Greek voters punished politicians who backed the belt-tightening in favour of fringe parties that promised to ditch the austerity measures that were a condition of receiving the bailout deals.

But a narrow victory Sunday by Greece’s pro-bailout New Democracy party eased fears of global financial turmoil, with Asian stock markets up in early trading.

“The Greek people today voted for Greece to remain on its European path and in the eurozone,” New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said after his party won. “(Voters chose) policies that will bring jobs, growth, justice and security.”

The G7 welcomed the result of the vote.

“Taking note of the Greek elections, we look forward to working with the next government of Greece, and believe that it is in all our interests for Greece to remain in the Euro area while respecting its commitments,” said a statement released Sunday.

“We welcome the commitment of the Euro Area to work in partnership with the next Greek government to ensure they remain on the path to reform and sustainability within the Euro Area.”

Even though anxiety has eased in Los Cabos, Europe’s financial woes are expected to dominate the two-day summit. Spain, the continent’s fifth-largest economy, just agreed to accept a bailout for its cash-strapped banks. Portugal and Ireland have already received bailouts, and Italy is mired in debt.

Countries outside of Europe have pledged billions of dollars to the International Monetary Fund to stabilize the world economy, should the need arise.

Canada and the United States reject the idea of contributing to the IMF. Canada pledged $10 billion to the fund in 2009, and Harper has said the Europeans are wealthy and have the means to deal with the crisis themselves.

Meanwhile, social-networking website Twitter was abuzz Sunday with speculation Canada will be allowed to join talks on a proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Canada, Japan and Mexico are all trying to get a seat at the negotiating table. But the strongest reservations about letting Canada pull up a chair are believed to come from the United States and New Zealand.

Canada’s trade restrictions on dairy and poultry products present the biggest obstacle to joining the nine-country talks. Canada has a supply-management system that controls milk and egg prices while setting prohibitively high tariffs on imports.

An announcement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership could come before Harper returns to Canada on Tuesday.

Harper starts his day Monday by meeting South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak. Then he’ll meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard before the summit begins Monday afternoon.

— With files from The Associated Press