G20 London 2009

G20 Gets a Big Obama Bounce

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.


G20 London Summit Declaration
April 2, 2009, 1:25 pm
Filed under: Admin | Tags: , , , ,


By late-afternoon today, as the formal meetings were wrapping up, the G20 Leaders’ Statement was circulated to the media and online. There were reports that leaders were agreeing to the final language up until the final minutes. Largely, there are not many surprises in the substance of the declaration, while much is left to interpretation on who will deliver and enforce the key points of agreement.

These documents make clear the need to empower or reform the international financial institutions, particularly the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to allow for continued monitoring of G20 progress on reversing the world economic crisis. There is also mention of another G20 summit (host country TBA) by the end of 2009 to track national and international action on the statement’s main points.

The declaration came in three parts, the statement and two annexs:

Leaders’ Statement (2 April 2009)
Annex: Declaration on Strengthening the Finanical System (2 April 2009)
Annex: Declaration on Delivering Resources through the International Financial Institutions (2 April 2009)

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.

Global Imbalances have Consequences
April 2, 2009, 9:33 am
Filed under: Analysis | Tags: , , , , , ,

Ruth Davis  Junior Research Fellow, International Economics, Chatham House

boutros-ghaliThe Chatham House panel discussion held on the eve of the London Summit promised “Multiple Perspectives on the G20” and it delivered just that. This event marked the launch of the Chatham House-Atlantic Council report “New Ideas for the London Summit”; there is broad support for this summit and a will for the G20 to succeed in delivering the “ambitious, but manageable and focused agenda” which the report deems necessary.

However, there are dissenting voices or at least notes of caution too – quite apart from the much publicised intransigence shown by certain EU leaders. Dr Boutros-Ghali, the Egyptian finance minister and Chair of the IMFC, will be attending the summit although Egypt is not in the G20. He reminded the audience that these “twenty countries represent themselves. They don’t represent the rest of the world even if they work for it.” Though he acknowledged it was a strong word, he noted that the G20 is technically “illegitimate” as it is not part of an international treaty backed system. Acting as a conduit for the voices of the 172 countries not in the G20, he spoke of the crowding out taking place in the world debt market, which means that US and EU borrowing requirements are pushing out countries like Indonesia and Mexico where the human consequences of financing shortfalls will inevitably be more grave than in developed countries with established welfare systems.

Dr Boutros-Ghali also talked about the IMF: the adult meant to be supervising the global economy but who was “out of the room” when the crisis happened. He noted the problems surrounding the provision of extra funds for the IMF; although this new money is necessary to prevent the collapse of vulnerable emerging economies, refinancing by means of bilateral borrowing rather than by expanding IMF aggregate quotas negates the need for immediate governance reform and a rebalancing of country representation within the organisation.

Stephen Roach, Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, also drew out what he saw as contradictions in the G20’s approach to crisis resolution and sequencing of policy actions. While Lord Malloch-Brown and others feel that the global fiscal stimulus measures are a necessary and imperative short term response to substitute for the collapse in global demand, Roach challenged this view and asserted that policymakers are misreading Keynes. For Roach, “this is our time to deal with the heavy lifting” and “shame on us if we fail to do it at this summit.” This means tackling the global imbalances head on (essentially, raising consumption in the Chinese domestic economy and encouraging saving in the US) and addressing the interplay between asset bubbles and global imbalances – a complicated task that he is not convinced politicians are up to. For the sake of countries both inside and out of the G20, let’s hope he is wrong.

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.