Don’t Hold Your Breath for the G-20

The G-20 Summit this weekend will see world leaders descend upon Hangzhou. How much will be accomplished considering the G-20 has been meandering since 2010?

By Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

Over the last few months, Chinese media has depicted the G-20 Hangzhou Summit as a major upcoming milestone in global governance. Media Reports claim that the Summit’s agenda includes issues ranging from global taxation, innovation, growth, investment, climate change, trade barriers to even anti-corruption. How much will the G-20 be able to deliver on?

The Answer: very little.

It will do us well to question what the G-20 has actually achieved in the last six years. It was the primary coordinating agency after the 2008 Financial Crisis and came up with the standstill policy. At the 2010 Seoul Summit, there was a 6% quota rebalancing to emerging countries in the composition of the executive board of the IMF. The 2011 and 2012 Summits were overshadowed by the Eurozone Crisis. At the Cannes Summit, it was suggested that the IMF would provide additional financing to Europe as a whole rather than a single country. Japan led the pack with 60 billion dollars while the BRICS countries followed suit but the US remained aloof from the efforts. In 2013, the G-20 for the first time, addressed political contentions, particularly the Syrian civil war and the use of chemical weapons. In 2014, the Brisbane Summit saw leaders pledge to lift GDP by 2% by 2018. However, there is little evidence to prove that most countries are departing from their national policies to meet their commitments. The 2015 Agenda simply reiterated the need for meeting past commitments.

Thus, broadening of its agenda beyond international financial reform has also meant that the G-20 has had little impact on anything. The counter argument is that the G20 is a deliberative body rather than a decision making one. However, the purpose of deliberations is to drive decisionmaking at some level. The G-20 always possessed a feature of complementarity: it was to work alongside other major international institutions. However, reform of international institutions has proven to be a long arduous task and the G-20’s assumption of other tasks (comparable to the agenda of multiple other international institutions) will bear little fruit.

The main problem with the G-20 is that it is unable to deal with the power politics amongst its members. Given the unanimity requirement in the organisation, an issue is pushed off the agenda if there is a considerable opposition from several G-20 members forming an issue specific coalition. Agenda Setting dynamics within the G-20 generally pit developing and developed countries against each other. On the other hand, China which is the global growth engine and the US, still the global superpower, both seek to dominate the G-20 agenda. This is addition to individual countries attempting to carve out special deals for themselves. This cacophony of voices is one of the reasons that the G-20 has failed to deliver.

The G-20 is important for corridor diplomacy however, G-20’s importance boiling down to corridor diplomacy cannot be regarded as a success in any sense of the term. The main problem with the G-20 was that it was a minilateral envisioned to have taken the most important powers into consideration for effective deliberation. However, this minilateral is not small enough to align nations’ strategies and is beset by concerns of national interest.  The 2016 G-20 agenda is too wide a net for any effective outcomes. The only way forward is for the G-20 to prioritise its most important issues and stick to its original mandate: answering systemic economic challenges.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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