By Arab News
By Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg*
On Sunday, the G20 virtual summit concluded a year of around-the-clock work by the Saudi presidency of the group from December 2019 to November 2020. It was a new experience for the country and unprecedented in the G20’s history in many ways. For Saudi Arabia, it was probably the most intensive 12 months in international diplomacy since the Gulf War of 1990-91. As in the process of joining the World Trade Organization in 2005, the Kingdom strove during its G20 presidency to revisit and reform the business climate.
It was the first time in G20 history that two summits, in March and the one earlier this week, were held under one presidency. The March (virtual) summit focused on meeting the challenges posed by coronavirus, mobilizing funds and multilateral organizations, and energizing national bureaucracies around the world to fight the pandemic and begin dealing with its socio-economic repercussions. It is important to remember that at the time many countries facing the twin crises of the disease and economic recession resigned themselves to its devastation. As I discussed at the time in Arab News, the March summit provided a reasonable way to face the pandemic and economic meltdown.
The November summit was held in a more hopeful atmosphere, coming on the heels of several breakthroughs in the development of a vaccine. It is true that about 60 million people were afflicted with the disease and about 1.4 million lives were lost, but with the promise of effective vaccines, there is finally light at the end of this long tunnel. However, even if we succeed in containing the pandemic, its economic and social devastations will linger for a while.
In a meeting on the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) convened by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday, the representative of the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB) said that the collective gross domestic product of the Ibero-American region of 22 countries has fallen to 2010 levels, as the disease wiped out a decade of economic growth. Poverty levels rose to levels not seen since 2005, erasing the progress made over 15 years in the fight against poverty. Other regions have suffered as much or more, and it will be some time before they fully recover.
The Saudi presidency faced another, unprecedented, challenge in having to organize the group’s business almost entirely virtually. Curfews and lockdowns at home, as well as travel restrictions, made any other approach difficult. The March and November summits were held by videoconference, as were numerous ministerial and expert meetings, as well as those of the “engagement groups,” which also worked mostly virtually. The eight engagement groups were especially interesting and inclusive, including groups dedicated to youth, women, labor, civil society, urban (mayors and city representatives), science and think tanks, as well a business engagement group.
The summit approved or supported about a dozen new or recent initiatives, some quite novel for the G20 and for Saudi Arabia. In addition to several initiatives on reforming the WTO and the international financial system, energizing tourism, education, transport and infrastructure sectors, the summit endorsed the Riyadh Initiative for Enhancing International Anti-Corruption Law Enforcement Cooperation and the G20 Action on International Cooperation on Corruption and Economic Crimes, Offenders and the Recovery of Stolen Assets. It also endorsed the G20 Anti-corruption Accountability Report, and G20 High-Level Principles for the Development and Implementation of National Anti-Corruption Strategies; Promoting Public Sector Integrity Through the Use of Information and Communications Technologies; and Promoting Integrity in Privatization.
They also supported “adherence by all G20 countries to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention” and welcomed Saudi Arabia joining the OECD Working Group on Bribery.
There was a special effort to empower women globally, and a commitment to “step up our efforts toward achieving the Brisbane Goal to reduce the gap in labor force participation between men and women by 25 percent by 2025.” The G20 welcomed “the commencement, under the Saudi presidency, of the Private Sector Alliance for the Empowerment and Progression of Women’s Economic Representation (EMPOWER) for women’s advancement in leadership positions.”
To accelerate the recovery of the tourism sector, the G20 endorsed G20 Guidelines for Inclusive Community Development through Tourism and the AlUla Framework for Inclusive Community Development, developed by Saudi Arabia.
There was strong support for multilateral work to protect the environment, fight climate change and protect fragile ecosystems, especially coral reefs. The summit approved the G20 Initiative on Clean Cooking and Energy Access and G20 Energy Security and Markets Stability Cooperation and endorsed the Circular Carbon Economy (CCE) Platform, with its 4Rs framework (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Remove).
These were among the main key outcomes of the summit, some of which were inspired by member states’ experience during the pandemic. For example, some countries, including Saudi Arabia, accelerated anti-corruption campaigns after uncovering abuse of emergency funds dedicated to fighting the pandemic.
In the presidency speech delivered on behalf of King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman cited three key achievements of the Saudi presidency. First, the G20 immediately provided the necessary resources to those at the frontline of the battle against COVID-19, including $21 billion to support the immediate funding needs for diagnostic tools, vaccines and medication. Saudi Arabia alone contributed $500 million to support these efforts. Second, the G20 Action Plan included extraordinary economic measures, such as the injection of more than $11 trillion stimulus into the global economy to support businesses and protect individuals’ livelihoods.
Third, the G20 provided emergency support to the most vulnerable countries in the world, hit hardest by the pandemic and the recession.
With such hard work, it is important to follow through to make sure that the bright new ideas developed during the Saudi G20 presidency are implemented, domestically and internationally. With the G20 troika mechanism, Saudi Arabia will be able to work with the next two presidencies, Italy and Indonesia, to ensure that the outcomes of this week’s summit are not forgotten.
- Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs & Negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views. Twitter: @abuhamad1