G20 accomplishes “little of substance”

G20 2010 Seoul Summit

Wow, that sure seemed like a whole lot of nothing.

G20 2010 Seoul Summit

The G20, Group of 20, meeting in Seoul, Korea, has concluded with very little to say for itself. As the BBC succinctly put it:

There was a strong sense that little of substance had been achieved on the underlying problems of the world economy.

President Barack Obama, now at another economic meeting in Japan, was judged fairly harshly by many as having diminished international clout and no coherent foreign policy. As this one commentator posted on NPR’s web site put it “Where is Obama’s Foreign Policy?”

This happy-go-lucky itinerary doesn’t even hint at an overarching foreign policy. Which got me thinking, is Obama ever going to come up with one?

Lost amid all the arguments over trade imbalances, the controversial U.S. decision to print more money to boost our economy, China’s own ongoing game of manipulating its currency and other typical financial debates was much of any focus at all on the biggest losers in the economic downturn — the poor.

The director of Oxfam International, Jeremy Hobbs, said the G20 is perhaps less an exclusive club than the G8 and more broadly focused on the needs beyond the wealthiest nations, but:

“This week the G20 couldn’t even agree on the first step, opening their markets to the poorest countries. For a full trade deal, rich countries would have to make concessions they have steadfastly refused to make for the past nine years. It ain’t gonna happen.”

UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon urged the G20 to keep their promises to poor countries when considering the global economy. Not that long ago, Ban noted, world leaders had gathered in New York City for the Millennium Development Goals summit promising to fight poverty, reduce maternal and child deaths and the like.

Maybe the tendency to ignore the poor at these meetings on the global economy is because, as I posted yesterday, most of the world wasn’t invited to this meeting. Those representing most of the money are at the meeting, yes, but not those representing most of the people on the planet.

The idea of limiting this discussion about international economics to a select few countries is that this would make it more efficient, more nimble and able to make decisive moves. Doesn’t seem to be working. As an article on CNN’s business blog said, this G20 meeting at times seemed more like it should have been dubbed the G2 — China and the U.S. — since that’s where much of the focus was most of the time.

The G20 was created in 2008 because the global economic crisis made it clear that the G8 approach was too narrowly focused. I think that appears to be the case as well for the G20. As the CNN blog notes:

There is a much bigger global reality at hand.  For the past two decades, the discussion was focused on how to best boost the economies of the developing world and most importantly the per-capita income levels of their citizens.  That time has come and it is being reinforced by billions of dollars of hot capital looking for better returns than investors can find within the “old G8.”

The business community seems to get it, that there is actually money to be made if we start thinking of the global economy as truly global.

It would be great if political leaders and government finance ministers started thinking along these lines as well, recognizing that “growing” the economies of the developing world — of all nations, rich or poor — is the only way to make progress in the global economy.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.