What you need to know about this weekend’s G-20 meeting

On October 30 and 31, the world’s top leaders will gather in Rome for this year’s G-20 summit. After the pandemic forced them to meet last year via video conference, heads of state will once again be present in person, allowing for the type of side-by-side and one-on-one meetings that have proven to be more productive in the past. Yet many critics of the G-20 have come to see the forum as a place of discussion, a place where a lot is said but nothing really happens. Will this year be any different, given the long list of challenges the world faces, from COVID to climate change? We spoke with Eurasia Group expert Charles Dunst to set the stage and find out where things are going.


What is the G-20?

The G-20 is an international forum that brings together representatives of the world’s major advanced and developing economies. Formed in 1999 in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis, it meets regularly to coordinate global policy on issues such as the economy, health and the climate.

Its members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey, UK, US and EU (the only non-member country). Spain is also a permanent guest. The G-20 also regularly invites other countries, either because of their disproportionate economic importance (like Singapore, every year since 2013) or because of their temporary positions of international leadership (Brunei, a small country in South Asia -Is, present this year because presides over the Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

The grouping has held meetings every year since 1999 and has hosted an annual summit of heads of state since 2008. Smaller meetings – working groups focused on specific issues – take place throughout the year.

Do all these countries ever agree on anything?

Rarely, but yes. Perhaps the G-20’s greatest achievement has been its response to the 2008 financial crisis: At a meeting called by US President George W. Bush, the group put in place an action plan to deal with the crisis. crisis and also defined principles and priorities for future crisis management. In April 2020, as the pandemic brought much of the global economy to a halt, the G-20 agreed to provide debt relief to low-income countries and then extended the measure until the end of this. year.

But the group’s actions were seen as grossly insufficient to deal with COVID and other recent global crises. In March 2020, the G-20 issued a one-page statement with no details on plans to deal with the worst pandemic in a century. And when the G-20 leaders met virtually a few weeks later, they vowed to do “whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic,” but issued a statement without any real commitment. Their pledge to inject $ 5,000 billion into the global economy was mainly an overhaul of measures already announced.

So, does this regrouping still matter?

Yes. Even if it struggles to develop concrete action plans, the G-20 is a more representative forum than many others for discussing international issues. Its members represent about 80 percent of global GDP, about 75 percent of all world trade, and about two-thirds of the world’s population. The presence of large developing countries such as China, India and Indonesia reflects their importance to the global economic and geopolitical order. In contrast, the G-7 – comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – represents a bygone era in which advanced democracies dominated the world. The G-20 is thus seen as a much more legitimate arena to discuss the future of the world.

What is the agenda for this weekend’s meeting?

Negotiations are still ongoing, but climate change is sure to be a key topic: G-20 members are divided over phasing out coal and pledging to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. COVID vaccines will likely also be discussed, as will the supply chain disruptions currently plaguing the global economy. US President Joe Biden, meanwhile, will also push for a global minimum tax of 15%, a sweeping overhaul that more than 130 countries have approved and which aims to stem the loss of revenue from tax havens.

Beyond the agenda, are important bilateral meetings expected?

Side-by-side bilateral meetings are often where the real work takes place. Indeed, in 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping and former US President Donald Trump hosted a working dinner in Argentina, finally agreeing to postpone a tariff increase. But Xi, who has not left China since the start of the pandemic, is not present this year, and neither is his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. However, other important bilateral agreements are expected.

Biden is said to have met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, under whom Turkey distanced itself from democracy and therefore came into tension with the United States. Biden will also meet with French President Emmanuel Macron, who has said he hopes to “re-engage” with the United States following a disagreement over America’s new military pact with Australia. Other bilateral agreements not yet reported will certainly take place as well.

Charles Dunst is Global Macro analyst at Eurasia Group.

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