The G20 Summit, Put Simply


By Campaign Agent Presilia Mpanu-Mpanu


On 7-8 July 2017, the G20 Summit took political centre-stage as leaders of the world’s
strongest economies, including Angela Merkel, Donald Trump, Theresa May, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, gathered in Hamburg. The weekend’s informal discussions dominated the political agenda addressing issues including climate change, free trade and responding to the refugee crisis.

Similarly to the G8, the G20 is a coalition of states that assemble to address the most pressing international issues. The predecessor of both coalitions was the G7, a group of seven states that joined together in 1976 and renamed in 1998 after the admission of Russia in 1998, to form an international forum for the eight major industrial economies seeking cooperation on economic issues. The G7, which then became the G8, currently comprises of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. As a collective the G8 has asserted numerous political and economic policies, rising on the international scene as the key association capable of promoting or disrupting political and economic stability.

Essentially, the G20 is the most recent expansion of the G8. A greater coalition formed in 1999 to respond to the 2007 Asian currency crisis and to develop a much-needed dialogue between developed and developing countries. It is now an influential international forum that gathers world leaders and bankers from the world’s top 20 most prosperous and emerging economies.

Currently, this includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, and the European Union (which is represented by the European Commission and by the European Central Bank). Collectively the group accounts for approximately 85 per cent of the world’s GDP and an astounding two-thirds of the global population.

The G20’s chief mandate is to avert future international financial crises. To this end, it seeks to shape the global economic agenda by discussing policy issues pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability. Much of this important business occurs in informal meetings and discussions. The Head of States/governments usually meet once a year; expect in 2009 and 2010, at the height of the global economic crisis, when leaders met twice. Whereas, finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20 countries meet twice a year, at the same time as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Being that it is an informal forum, the G20 does not posses any executive or legislative powers and its decisions are non-binding. There are no formal votes or resolutions which means whether or not agreements are implemented by member states depends wholly on their willingness to cooperate. The G20 also has no permanent staff of its own and its presidency rotates annually between states divided into regional groupings. Germany currently holds the presidency hosting in Hamburg this year, with Argentina to take over in 2018 hosting in Buenos Aires and becoming the first South American state to host altogether. Hosting the Summit can provide an opportunity to set the agenda and lead discussions. In 2009, for example, when the UK held a special spring summit, the then prime minister Gordon Brown orchestrated a deal in which world leaders agreed on a $1.1 trillion injection of financial aid into the global economy. The “historic” deal was widely regarded as a triumph.

The G20’s informal setting may give the impression that all players are on an equal playing field but the lines of informal influence in the coalition often mirror those of major power politics. An example of which was in 2014 when US President Barack Obama dominated the Brisbane summit by placing climate change at the top of the agenda, despite the hesitancy of the host nation, Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott, to allow the issue to take centrepiece.

Since its establishment, and primarily due to its prioritisation of issues relating to capital, fiscal responsibility and austerity, the G20’s Summits have also been a site for major protests. In recent years’ protestors have argued that the Summit’s largely ignores issues such as poverty, mainly protesting that the grouping is generated to benefit the richest members of society which further marginalises and impoverishes the majority; climate change and the reluctance to put global warming as one of the highest priorities; and the failure to prioritise gender equality and LGBT issues to name a few. Protestors take to the streets of the hosting city to form peaceful demonstrations which have often turn into violent protests. This year’s summit in Hamburg was no different. Thousands of protesters descended on the German city, set a series of bonfires in the streets, clashed with police and looted shops in protest of capitalism, climate policies and globalisation, amongst other issues.

This year, chaos also crept into the informal meetings of the Heads of States. Despite the
promising focus on climate change and global trade, it made little progress. US President
Donald Trump opposed the views of the other 19 members to compliment his pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement earlier this year. Subsequently, the other members agreed to hold a follow-up climate summit in December 2017 to move forward. During the meetings, President Trump also threatened to impose trade restrictions on steel due to a “supply glut”, a move that threatens the start a trade war. As a result, the Group agreed to share information about steel production and to publish a formal report by November 2017.

Photo @ Number 10 on Flickr

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