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G20 Produces Little for Developing World – or Anyone Else

WASHINGTON, Jun 21 2012 (IPS) - The release of the final communiqué of the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, on Tuesday evening has been met with widespread derision from observers across the ideological spectrum.

Critics have been particularly scathing of the summit’s lack of discussion on development issues.

According to Oxfam International, an aid agency, the G20 countries “sidelined development” in Los Cabos.

“This is a hugely disappointing outcome for developing countries,” Oxfam spokesperson Carlos Zarco said on Tuesday. “Leaders failed to keep the world’s poorest in their sights, despite the fact that more than half these people live in G20 countries.”

Even while many had begun to forecast that world leaders attending the summit, held June 18-19, would be hobbled in making long-term commitments by roiling economic downturns at home, many had continued to hope that progress would be made on individual programmes.

Yet during the event, the financial problems in Europe seemed to eclipse much of the rest of the agenda.

U.S. President Barack Obama admitted as much in post-summit comments. “The (threat) that’s received the most focus…is the situation in Europe,” he said, despite the fact that “most leaders of the eurozone…are not part of the G20”.

Nonetheless, the entirety of Obama’s comments was devoted to European issues, a trend reflected in the Los Cabos declaration as well as the text of the signature Los Cabos Growth and Jobs Action Plan.

No new action

Some new initiatives did receive cautious praise from development experts. These included a new 100-million-dollar pot to fund agricultural innovations, as well as a renewed focus on nutrition and food security.

Even in Washington, however, critics noted that much of the momentum on these issues had already begun well prior to the Los Cabos summit, meaning that little new progress or detail emerged in Mexico.

“With food prices swinging wildly and the planet burning, this was the moment for bold proposals from the G20,” Neil Watkins, with ActionAid USA, a watchdog group, said. “Instead, on food security and climate change, the G20 turned in last year’s homework, content to reaffirm old plans and commission more studies.”

World Vision’s Adam Taylor voiced similar complaints. “The summit focused more on recycling previous commitments and sharing best practices and not enough on making measurable political commitments in the fight against poverty and hunger,” he said.

John Ruthrauff, director of international advocacy with InterAction, a Washington-based network of nearly 200 international NGOs, offered support for several of the initiatives, but expressed exasperation that “these words … are not accompanied by concrete steps, action plans, or benchmarks for completion”.

More IMF funding

Perhaps the biggest news to come out of the summit was the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) successful raising of an additional 456 billion dollars, a push that had encountered friction leading up to the talks.

While IMF head Christine Lagarde praised this doubling of the Fund’s lending capacity as a demonstration of “the broad commitment of the membership to ensure the IMF has access to adequate resources to carry out its mandate in the interests of global financial stability”, the new money is, in fact, aimed largely at shoring up faltering European economies.

A critical percentage of those commitments came from the “middle income” countries that define the G20.

Although last week these governments, led by Brazil, China, India and Russia, had threatened to withhold some or all of this additional funding pending assurance of the passage of a suite of reforms within the IMF’s voting structure, the money was ultimately given with little forward movement on the reforms, which would increase the voting power of developing countries.

The G20 “lost sight of developing countries reeling from aid cuts, climate change and volatile food prices”, Oxfam said in a statement. “Poor countries depleted their reserves defending themselves against the economic crisis caused by the rich world, and are also having to cope with massive aid cuts.”

“When confronted with a severe crisis on your own doorstep, it can be easy to sideline development issues,” said Samuel A. Worthington, the president of InterAction. “But these problems are real and they are not going away unless we take measurable steps to address them.”


Many commentators have interpreted the lack of results at the Mexico summit as indicative of a broader lack of global leadership at the moment, amidst economic crisis and with several heads of state facing election this year.

“Political courage seems to be in short supply in Los Cabos,” said Michael Elliott, the head of ONE, an international campaign against extreme poverty. “Too much of the work that was started (in previous summits) has not been advanced by leaders in Los Cabos.”

Oxfam’s Zarco agreed, saying, “This collective failure of political will is shocking, and must be dealt with in the last months of Mexico’s G20 presidency.”

While Mexico’s G20 secretariat will be expected to answer for any lack of focus during the proceedings, much handwringing is being reserved for European and U.S. leaders, particularly Obama.

“He may well be appropriately focused on economic issues at home, but there is no denying that at the G-20, in the UN, at the world’s international financial institutions, and confronting key challenges, no one is touting the transformational presence of Obama the multilateralist as they did a couple of years ago,” wrote David Rothkopf, the influential editor at large for Foreign Policy magazine, this week.

Citing the G20’s recent agenda as “almost laughably remote from the big issues of the day”, Rothkopf suggested that the world is currently seeing more of a “G-Zero moment”, using a term recently coined by an American political scientist named Ian Bremmer.

Another commentator, the noted Indian economist Jayati Ghosh, suggested that the events at Los Cabos underscored the G20’s overall lack of relevance.

The Mexico summit was “arguably the most important meeting of this group since it was formed”, Ghosh wrote in a recent blog post. “The reason for this significance is that for some time now, the G20 appears to have lost its way…(having) increasingly shied away from addressing the more important questions.”

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