ISSN 2330-717X

G20’s Costly Meetings: Do They Serve Any Purpose? – Analysis


By Jayshree Sengupta

The process for the next G20 meeting, scheduled for 30 November-1 December in Buenos Aires, has already begun.  A number of consultative meetings have already started taking place between the host and the member countries. The preparations for the elaborate summit take exactly one year.  These annual rituals attract thousands of protestors too in the cities where they are held. These mainly anti-globalization and anti-establishment protestors, in trying to catch the attention of the rich countries, often turn violent leading to loss of property. This necessitates deployment of heavy security forces by the host country which is highly expensive.  Half of the members of G20 are industrialised, advanced countries like the US, the UK, Japan, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Russia, Italy and the EU and the other half are the Emerging Market Economies like India, China, Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, South Korea, Argentina and Saudi Arabia.  It represents two thirds of the world’s population and 85 per cent of the global economy.

Last year the G20 meeting was in Hamburg, Germany. Next year will be Japan’s turn. The troika (Germany, Argentina and Japan) are working together to ensure consistency and continuity of the group’s agenda. In 2020, the G20 meeting will be held in Saudi Arabia. The group has no headquarters or permanent staff and the host plays a leading role in setting the agenda and building consensus among the members. International agencies like the US, World Bank and the IMF are  also invited.

G20’s primary objective and responsibility since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008 has been to safeguard and strengthen global financial stability. At the G20’s first summit which took place at the height of the world crisis in Washington, in November 2008, it assumed the responsibility of strengthening the international financial architecture so that another financial crisis does not occur in the future. Every G20 meeting is preceded by a meeting of finance ministers, Central Bank governors and their deputies, to which the IMF head is also invited. The G20 meeting in Hamburg in 2016 was preceded by such a meeting in Baden Baden.

The preparatory process preceding the summit involves a large number of consultations between bureaucrats and civil society organisations that represent different sections of society in G20 states who provide inputs to the working groups.  The G20 has 10 working and study groups this year.  It also conducts 6 meetings of the agriculture, foreign, finance, digital, labour and health ministers of member countries prior to the summit. Then there are seven engagement groups  (Business 20, Civil Society 20 Labour 20, Science 20, Think Tanks 20, Women 20, Youth 20). The engagement groups comprise of representatives of different society stakeholders from G20 states. They represent scientific and research community, private sector and trade unions, youth and NGOs. They meet in tandem with the G20 to keep up a dialogue with policy makers.

There are two tracks that are followed in the meetings – the finance track in which the G20 finance ministers, central bank governors and concerned secretaries to the governments meet and the Sherpa or the Development track for which each member country appoints a Sherpa. India has appointed Shaktikanta Das (former Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs) as the Sherpa for the Buenos Aires meeting. Sherpa track involves technical and policy analysis for working groups comprising of government officials from member countries and international organisations. The working groups deal with issues in agriculture, anti-corruption, education, climate sustainability, development, employment, health, digital, energy transitions, trade and investment. International financial architecture, international taxation, financial inclusion and sustainable financing are under the finance track.

Sherpas of all member countries meet three to four times in the host country before the summit. The finance track in India is managed by the Secretary of Economic Affairs.

At every summit, the host country can adopt a special agenda. At the Summit in Hangzhou, China in 2016, G20 adopted a special G20 Action Plan on 2030 Agenda in which it identified 15 ‘sustainable development sectors’ (SDS) that reflect the focal areas. They are not identical to UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as ecological aspects remain under-represented and human rights are not mentioned at all.

In the G20 meeting in Hamburg, the Action Plan demanded that the fiscal policies of member countries should be pro-growth and investor friendly. The bureaucracies and ministries of the member countries welcome the G20 meetings and all are eager to host them. This year India lost out to Argentina.   It gives ministers and bureaucrats occasion to travel frequently. More than 50 meetings usually take place at various government levels and in different areas before the summit in 11 cities of the host country. The expenditure is huge, making quite a big hole in the host country and member countries’ exchequer in financing the travel and hotel expenses of all the participants. This year around 20,000 people are going to visit Argentina for the G20 meeting.

The goal of maintaining short-term international financial stability was the original goal at the London summit of 2009. In order to do so, the IMF was revamped and refurbished with more funds and it resumed the role of surveillance of global money flows. Increasingly G20 is going into areas that require long term focus. This year the emphasis will be on future of work, infrastructure development and sustainable food future. The regulation of crypto currencies and North Korea may also figure prominently depending on what the US decides because it has a big voice in G20 meetings.

As the agenda of G20 gets diluted covering a vast number of subjects that are the core competences of other international and multilateral agencies the voice of G20 can be expected to be short lived. Since there is no G20 secretariat, no follow up action can be expected. This year in all likelihood, the joint communique will make headlines in the global media with the rich members’ voices clearly discernible. The only hope is that the member states carry forward some of the decisions in their own national policies. Otherwise, these meetings with their enormous material costs and a huge carbon footprint, will lose their meaning especially when G20 is preaching environmental sustainability. Buenos Aires meeting too could turn into another big photo ops event and of little interest to the rest of the world’s 175 countries unless the G20’s Action Plan is inclusive and implemented by the G20.

Observer Research Foundation

Observer Research Foundation

ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.

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