Author: Bhanu Joshi, Youth for Policy and Dialogue and CPR
The seventh G20 summit will be held this year in Mexico. But the G20’s role in the current process of economic recovery, and its legitimacy, are still being questioned.
Academics and activists alike have given considerable thought to the idea of building a social agenda for the G20 to answer questions of legitimacy, and many have rightly identified shortcomings in the G20 process.
Since the 2010 Seoul summit, for example, little progress has been made in consolidating the ‘nine pillars’ that came out of the Seoul Development Consensus for Shared Growth — aimed at promoting development through improved infrastructure, job creation, food security and financial inclusion. The adoption of a Multi-Year Action Plan to implement these nine pillars was widely acclaimed as a step in the right direction, and since the Toronto summit the G20 has developed a robust system of working groups. But while this elaborate system of meetings has brought immense attention to these issues, little has been achieved in most of the key areas of engagement.
Rather, the euro zone crisis kept member countries on their toes at last year’s G20 summit in Cannes, and the uncertainty overshadowed the rest of the agenda. With nothing concrete concerning development on the agenda, last year’s summit appended several high-level meetings for agriculture and labour ministers, aimed at fast tracking talks on food security and declining employment around the world.
Agriculture ministers met to deal with food price volatility, which had reached a record high and sparked fears of food riots throughout the world. But what has been achieved since this meeting is questionable. The G20 should focus on regulating the global commodity derivatives market, ensuring that when prices fluctuate the global trading centres remain open and transparent and do not resort to export restrictions driven by ‘profit motive’. The World Bank predicted that between June 2010 and February 2011, 44 million people were pushed into poverty due to rising food prices, and despite the G20 having identified the reasons for this volatility, nothing was achieved on bio-fuel regulation and commodity speculation at the 2011 summit. Mexico, on the other hand, seems committed to putting the food security agenda back on track, and the G8 summit in Chicago this year is also likely to highlight the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program and L’Aquila pledges to put money into agriculture in the developing world.
The same inconsistency is true with regard to job creation. The 2008 Washington declaration identified the creation of ‘green jobs’ as an important way of promoting economic growth and tackling the global financial crisis. While the G20’s initial policy response at the 2009 London and Pittsburg summits was positive and saved around 21 million jobs, the 2010 declaration on addressing income inequality through ‘minimum wage policies and improved institutions for social dialogue and collective bargaining’ was quickly taken off the agenda in Cannes because of the summit’s strong focus on the debt crisis and the resultant austerity measures. The Cannes summit nevertheless created the ‘Labour 20’ to ‘institutionalise’ the participation of trade unions, as well as a task force for employment generation. But now the G20 must back this up and start working on youth employment.
Additionally, much still needs to be done to engage low-income countries in the G20 process. South Korea played the lead in setting up the G20’s development agenda, but subsequent action has been watered down. One of the key reasons is the constellation of divergent actors within the forum, such as the Development Working Group, various task forces and high-level ministerial meetings. The mandates of these groups are not guided by a single vision, and there is a real need to develop a common framework among these actors.
This is especially important because the G20 should be seen to complement ongoing efforts, rather than compete with existing international mandates and institutions. This focus on complimentarity should see the G20 become a forum that aims to settle disputes — on trade, investment, agriculture and climate change — that are otherwise blocked in regular ministerial fora.
Finally, there is a need to sharpen the G20’s core development agenda. Bringing the Doha Development Round to its conclusion, developing infrastructure, increasing employment and putting food security high on the agenda should be core priorities for the G20.
Mexico seems to have targeted the agenda to focus on green growth, infrastructure and food security. This is a welcome development, but it is critical that the G20 countries take this agenda seriously and increase cooperation to follow through on agreements.