G20 London 2009


G20 Gets a Big Obama Bounce

obama-g201
Andrew F. Cooper
  CIGI Associate Director and Distinguished Fellow

On the eve of the G20 it looked as though the summit would be a marked failure. As with the first meeting in Washington DC meeting back in November the public optics were all about the clash of civilizations between the market oriented countries led by the US and the UK and the regulatory oriented countries led by France and Germany. The former pushed for a collective stimulus or ‘rescue’ package. The latter wanted to focus on putting into place constraints on the excesses of the so-called ‘Anglo-Saxon’ business model. In an unconventional move the German chancellor and the French president upped the ante via a joint appearance amidst speculation of red lines and even a De Gaulle-like empty chair.

A big crisis however did concentrate the mind of the leaders about the implications of a non result from the major economies. Cutting through the temptations to simply reinforce what President Obama called at his press conference national ‘quirks’ compromises were made to give the G20 the big result it needed to be a confidence booster.

Obama did not get national set of stimulus packages he originally wanted. But this omission was overshadowed by the announcement of the one trillion dollar initiative for the International Monetary Fund. Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy did not get a grand new architecture of regulation but they got important bits and pieces of regulation directed at hedge funds and bankers’ pay, a revamped Financial Stability Board, and an upgraded drive against tax havens.

In cliched terms this was a win-win situation as leaders on both sides of the Atlantic could claim victory. Yet it must be allowed that the scope of these wins was highly differentiated. Although Gordon Brown did a first class job as host his government is fading into certain defeat at the next election with the idea of him extracting some further personal bounce through the G20 highly unlikely. Angela Merkel acted as a solid national leader but without any image of an international statesperson. Nicolas Sarkosy blends energy and shallowness as his stylistically impressive calls for action lack substantive follow up.

President Barack Obama enhanced his reputation in an unanticipated manner. Fighting a cold at his press conference his pronouncements of the G20 achievements were fairly perfunctory. And although he flashed some of his vast store of charm he also bobbed and weaved around some tough questioning. From the US press corps the focus was exclusively instrumentally. What did the G20 result mean for main-street USA? From the international journalists in attendance the focus was on the sense of American decline.

Although deft in these handlings of these questions (see my video blog for CBC as a G20 ‘insider’), it was his operative diplomacy not just his communication skills that deserves kudos. Behind the scenes he crafted a compromise between France and China on tax havens. He gave ground on issues without doing anything that was offside with his domestic initiatives. He gave the impression that a new type of assertive US leadership was on tap without being ‘soft’ in acknowledging that the US was the exclusively to blame for the crisis. While speaking about the flaws of Wall Street he also pointed to mistakes in the European and Asian banking sectors.

If Obama was the big winner he was not the only one. As other blogs have commented China made a mark to the extent where observers are talking about an informal G2 inside the G20. Institutionalism is back in whether in the case of the formerly obscure (the Financial Stability Forum, now Board) or the controversial (the IMF). The biggest winner of all – along with Obama – though may well be the G20. Here the parallelism about the positional ascendancy of the new US president and the new forum is striking. For if reports are right about the third G20 being in New York in September, it will be Obama who chairs the next stage of this dynamic process.

Disclaimer: This blog is solely intended to spur discussion, while the opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI, Chatham House or their respective Boards of Directors.



China Upgraded to Global Power

Brown-Hu-G20

Paola Subacchi  Research Director, International Economics, Chatham House
From the London Summit Media Centre

It is the end of the big day and I am travelling from the Excel Centre to a Brazilian café in Acton. The BBC wants to record an interview for Newsnight there, so to add some colour – a long way to go for a couple of soundbites! Does the London Summit make any difference for countries like Brazil? What do the BRICs get out of it?

Perhaps the voice of the developing countries was a bit muted, but surely being around the table is already a big achievement. By delivering a sensible, albeit not exciting, plan of action and showing unity and cooperation, the G20 has qualified to be the key multilateral forum for some years to come. It has de facto replaced the G7 in terms of depth and scope of its agenda – the G7 will continue to be the forum for developed economies. And the developing countries are part of it. However, they will have to move from the background to the limelight and ensure that they are not ‘junior partners’ forever. How can this happen?

Assertiveness is not only a function of geopolitics, but, and foremost, of the ability and willingness to commit resources. This is the big lesson of the London Summit, and the dividing line between ‘senior’ and ‘junior’ partners, or ‘global powers’ and ‘regional powers’. Putting aside some initial reluctance – as in the G20 summit in November 2008 – in London China graduated from regional to global power. It showed political and financial muscles and the appetite to be involved in the global dialogue – with also an interest in developing a closer relationship with Washington.

China is no longer a BRIC, and should no longer put together with countries, like Brazil, that have the potential of becoming large economies and global powers, but they are not quite there. Economic figures clearly show this divide. China’s economy is about US$30,000 bn in volume, has about 10% of GDP current account surplus and approximately US$2,000 bn in FX reserves (estimates for 2008). Brazil’s economy is much smaller (slightly below US$3,000 bn), has about 2% current account deficit and just below US$200 bn FX reserves. This puts China along with the other large economies – US, EU and Japan – and, also, in a special relationship with the US – it is worth noting that President Obama and President Hu Jintao have already agreed to meet twice later this year under the framework of the China-US strategic and economic dialogue.

Political influence and economic power go together, and China seems determined to use both to shape a more global role for itself.

Disclaimer: This blog is solely intended to spur discussion, while the opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI, Chatham House or their respective Boards of Directors.



G20 and Tax Havens: Efficiency, Yes; Legitimacy, Maybe…

Andrew F. Cooper  CIGI Associate Director and Distinguished Fellow
From the London Summit Media Centre

Offshore financial centres (or tax havens) did not cause the financial crisis. But tax havens have become one of the prime targets of the G20 in its efforts to deal with the global economic meltdown. Although there are some differences in the means to do so, the accelerating offensive against tax havens has bridged the trans-Atlantic divide that has defined the London Summit on so many other issues.

The US has become far less tolerant of tax havens in the wake of the UBS scandal, in which Swiss banking officials stand accused of facilitating tax evasion by US citizens. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama often cited frustration on tax havens, often referring to a single office building in the Cayman Islands that houses 12,000 US-based corporations. The UK – facing a marked decline in the role of London as a financial hub – is trying to repatriate some of the big pools of money not only from tax evaders but tax avoiders (with Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledging to have Briton’s pay the ‘right amount of tax’). Germany has mounted a concerted drive against the culture of secrecy found in Liechtenstein, especially when so many rich Germans have taken advantage of that secrecy. And French President Nicolas Sarkozy has stated a successful outcome relating to the regulation of tax havens one of his ‘red line’ in which the G20 summit must deliver results.

The issue of tax havens as viewed through the lens of efficiency has become one of the unanticipated markers of the success of the G20. At the first Washington DC summit in November 2008, Sarkozy lamented the lack of success in this agenda area. Yet, as pushed by the Paris-based OECD, the G20 has moved to send a strong signal to those tax havens which have refused to sign tax information exchange deals. It appears as though a ‘naming and shaming’ approach will lead to eventual sanctions on states that don’t enter into tax sharing agreements.

If a sign of efficient action, however, the issue of tax havens raises the question of legitimacy. Can the G20 not only speak for the rest of the world but impose its will on countries that do not belong to the group. The G20 is arguably over-represented by European countries – to the point where the Czech Republic and Spain have hung on their spots from the Washington DC meeting. But it is quite striking that the countries targeted as tax havens in Europe (not just the small principalities such as Liechtenstein, Luxembourg) and Monaco but middle sized countries including Austria, Belgium and Switzerland are not included.

The question of legitimacy is even more pronounced in the case of the Caribbean, where many of the best known tax havens are located. As noted this type of niche highlights some of the defects associated of the shadow economy. The Cayman Island’s for example have more registered businesses than citizens. Yet, targeting developing countries contributes to other anomalies. While the offshore has been targeted their onshore competitors (most notably, the US state of Delaware) has been left alone. Nor has there been any move to have Caribbean regional representation akin to ASEAN or the African Union.

The site for individual or collective voice on this issue, therefore, turns away from the G20 to another forum – the Summit of the Americas, to be held in Trinidad and Tobago in two weeks time.

Disclaimer: This blog is solely intended to spur discussion, while the opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI, Chatham House or their respective Boards of Directors.



From G20 to G2?
April 2, 2009, 7:36 am
Filed under: Comment | Tags: , , , , , ,

Hu-Obama

Gregory Chin  CIGI Senior Fellow
From the London Summit Media Centre

As the global financial crisis has grown into an economic crisis, there is a sense that this time in London, there is more at stake than diplomatic poker. At one level, people are tried of summits. Yet at another, people get it that leaders need to go solve the brewing crisis at the global level.

The financial crisis has turned into one of confidence, beyond financial markets. Commodity prices have fallen. It is affecting peoples’ jobs and livelihood, spreading across the globe. In Africa, fragile states that have depended on exports in niche sectors have seen their trade dry-up. It has become a crisis of real life, fuelling insecurity and uncertainty for households. This explains the surge in expectations for the G20 London. This is one of the differences between the G20 Washington last November and London this time.

In the lead up to London, the leaders themselves seem more engaged – more personally involved. World leaders have become their own sherpas, driving the agenda for the meetings. The host, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, has expended tremendous personal energy and political capital to set the tone and provide leadership for this summit. There is recognition among world leaders that they need to restore confidence and demonstrate there is “someone in charge out there”. The top advisors to the host have called for concrete and realistic goals; a focus on first priorities; and objectives that give a sense of “the beginning of the end” of the global crisis. This has required fighting off the temptation to expand the agenda to include, for example, climate change. The focus has been on economic problem solving. In this regard, G20 London is turning out to be different from recent G8 Summits.

At the same time, the host government has encouraged broader participation at this summit beyond the G20, based on the reasoning that the world is facing truly global problems, and that fixing the global system will require a broader international effort than “the 20”. While such an approach offers legitimacy gains, it also accentuates existing collective action challenges.

The G20 London Summit is expected to bring stronger domestic pledges on ODA commitments to developing countries, as well as increased commitments to the international financial institutions. London is expected to result in a stronger package of regulations, including principles for strengthening national banking and financial regulations, and more robust peer pressure mechanisms via the Financial Stability Forum, Basel, and the International Monetary Fund. However, the word is that there will not be a new global stimulus package. Instead there will be a commitment to monitor closely, and add at the later date if more is needed, or step on the brake to prevent inflation. While the above would represent an advance on the Washington Summit last November, it will likely not be enough.

Here we should note that we are seeing the rise of a new informal “G2” – between the United States and China. And this is the crux of the challenge for the G20. If an “expanded G20” cannot deliver, it will feed Great Power withdrawal into the bilateral track to deal with matters of highest strategic importance. This could mean confining the multilateral track to implementing the decisions made by the Big 2. The result would be a more varied architecture, which in itself, is not a negative outcome. But the reality of an informal G2 should serve as a warning to those who are playing a soft power hand. That expanding the G20 could impair the role of “the 20” in setting the agenda – not to mention its effectiveness.

Disclaimer: This blog is solely intended to spur discussion, while the opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI, Chatham House or their respective Boards of Directors.



G20 Must Escape G7-itis
March 31, 2009, 8:01 pm
Filed under: Comment | Tags: , , , , ,

Andrew F. Cooper  CIGI Associate Director and Distinguished Fellow
Gregory Chin  CIGI Senior Fellow

As the first hosts of the G20 leaders’ meetings, the US and the UK have coordinated the summit agenda, and set a tone for the meetings. The leadership from Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President Barack Obama has, in some ways, yeilded positive results. However, it has arguably come at the expense of a genuine recognition that the world has significantly changed and that the Atlantic condominium is no longer enough, even to set the base for the broader discussions.

A narrow focus on disagreements in response measures to the fast evolving global economic crisis between the Anglo countries and the Continental countries distracts from the critical task of building the new and broader international consensus that is needed at this time for collective crisis management measures and collective stimulus package to emerge from London. Continued overemphasis of trans-Atlantic views and contestation is crowding out ideas and proposals from key emerging actors in the global system.

The take-away message is that the success or failure of the G20 will be determined not just by the details of new re-regulation and stimuli packages. Outstanding issues of institutional architectural reform that allow for effective and legitimate global macro-coordination are also crucial for building the new international governance consensus that is needed for the future. There is much to the done in rebuilding the institutional framework of global governance. The G20 can be an important start for this process. But the very notion of a G20 means that the world is no longer that of 1945 or 1975 – when a narrow band of countries could produce the ideas and architecture that mattered.

The world in 2009 is dramatically different. The traditional powers can no longer dictate to the supplicants. At the same time, the exact ordering in the new international hierarchy is not clear cut, Some countries in the G20 have been included not because of their contribution potential to the system but because of their potential to impair or destabilize the system (think Argentina and Turkey). Even as we have gotten used to talking about a G20 or G8+5, we are seeing signs of the coming of age of a new G5 of emerging powers, not to mention a new G2 of the United States and China.

The G20 London Summit will be remembered for its delivery of results (or lacktherof) and moblization of participating countries, despite their diversity. As the leaders begin to converge in London, this blog intends to trace what is happening inside and around the G20, and the broader context of issues and contestation shaping the core discussions.

Tomorrow we will detail the key challenges that the G20 London Summit faces in terms of brokering new international political consensus, including what we are hearing on the ground in London.

 

Disclaimer: This blog is solely intended to spur discussion, while the opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI, Chatham House or their respective Boards of Directors.



Challenges Ahead for London Summit
March 31, 2009, 7:41 pm
Filed under: Comment | Tags: , , , , ,

Andrew F. Cooper  CIGI Associate Director and Distinguished Fellow
Gregory Chin  CIGI Senior Fellow

What will the G20 London Summit be remembered for? Some observers have argued that it will mark a major turning point in global politics and international governance. Yet, so far it has raised more questions than answers, as energies for a new economic consensus appear drained by old divergences. Will the established G7 be able to rally around the Obama-Brown partnership, and reassert its leadership? Will we see the solidification of a more assertive G5 of emerging economies? Will some countries be able to straddle such a divide if it emerges? Are we seeing a new “coming together” of North and South, or will frustrations from London give rise to a new global South?

Notwithstanding the yeoman work put in by the officials from the G20 in the lead up to the London Summit, there is bound to be fallout if the G8 and the emerging powers cannot reach consensus on a sufficient number of the major issues at the London Summit. The handlers will make sure that some successes are recorded, and a coherent communiqué issued.

Certainly, there will be some recognizable agreements on a host of technical issues, ranging from stronger domestic banking regulations to surveillance of cross-border transactions to increased resources for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Financial Stability Forum (FSF). While, in declaratory terms, there will be strong commitments made against protectionism and an escalation of initiatives on tax havens. There will also be an announcement of some new pool of money for least developed countries to weather the current economic storm.

What is unclear is whether the policy package coming from London will be enough to claim longer-term success, on a couple of criteria. First, as a global economic crisis committee, is to effectively dig the G20 out of global recession and to prevent others such crises. And second – and this is often lost amidst to technicalities – is to make the G20 the ‘summit of summits’, a new concert in which there is greater equality between the quadrants of the globe.

However, if the deeds do not match the words, and things get worse on the ground in the ‘real’ economy, the G20 could be seen as perpetuating the dire economic situation. Certainly, the honeymoon for Barack Obama would be short-lived, similarly Gordon Brown’s political resurrection. The G20 must strive to find a balance between collectively hammering out sweeping and immediate financial regulations and laying the foundation of a global forum more representative of the economic order of tomorrow.

Disclaimer: This blog is solely intended to spur discussion, while the opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI, Chatham House or their respective Boards of Directors.