This week's G20 Summit to be held in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, will be keenly observed across the globe for several reasons. First, it comes amidst an ongoing trade war between US and China that appears to be getting out of hand and can be resolved only by direct intervention by its leaders. It is expected that the presidents of these two countries will meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit. Secondly, there is renewed uncertainty in the world economy following the contentious APEC meeting in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the wobbly Brexit negotiations. The G20 Summit comes on the heels of the EU Brexit summit last Sunday which approved the divorce agreement, but the deal still faces stiff opposition in the British Parliament. Finally, G20 leaders must make some headway on reforming WTO, something that is essential for the global economy to prosper in the coming years.
The host of the gathering on November 30 and December 1 is Mauricio Macri, President of Argentina, a member of G20. This group of 19 countries and the European Union accounts for 85 percent of the global economy. The 19 countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. Argentina has also invited Spain, Chile, and the Netherlands to attend the meetings.
This is the group's 10th meeting, held once a year, and this year's theme is “Building consensus for fair and sustainable development.” President Macri has identified three key issues for the agenda: the future of work, infrastructure for development, and a sustainable food future. A few other topics have now surfaced to the top and assumed some urgency, including trade and climate change. The friction between US and China has spilled over onto international conferences with a display of open hostilities between these two countries preventing a joint declaration at the end of the just-concluded APEC summit in PNG. Reuters reported that officials in European and Asian capitals helping to prepare for the meeting are nonetheless hopeful that a communique would be agreed upon at the end of the summit on December 1.
The accomplishments of the G20 Summit will also hinge on the meeting between Trump and Xi, expected to take place on the sidelines of G20, which “may yield at least a partial ceasefire” in the trade war. The summit is also expected to give the leaders of three major superpowers, US, Russia and China, an opportunity to collectively assess the importance of a good working relationship between them for global prosperity. There are strong indications that China and Russia are appreciative of this mutual interdependence and want to use their charm to draw Donald Trump to the table.
China has already warned that the group must try to avoid the dissensions and controversies that ruined the APEC forum. Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen said Beijing will go the extra mile to avoid the PNG outcome. “We hope the G20 can discuss WTO reform, and express opposition to unilateralism and protectionism.” In an interview aired on CNBC, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg voiced his sympathies for the American point of view indicating that while he agrees that the US has “legitimate concerns” about trade with China, it is also important that “cool heads prevail” at the upcoming G20 Summit.
Putin and Trump are also expected to meet face-to-face at G20, their first since the Helsinki Summit in July. The meeting is expected to give these two leaders an occasion to cement the bond between their nations, a necessary ingredient in the effort to resolve many outstanding issues that affect one or the other, including the securities of Ukraine, Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Israel. It needs to be seen if ghosts of the controversy that erupted in the US after the last meeting are still hanging over Donald Trump. It may be recalled that Trump's performance at the press conference following the last summit prompted his critics to accuse him of “cozying up to the Kremlin.”
There are several dark clouds hanging over the summit which might affect the mood of the participants. On November 26, the UN Security Council called an emergency meeting over the escalating situation between Russia and Ukraine. On Sunday, Russia seized three Ukrainian ships off the coast of Crimea accusing Ukraine of violating its waters.
It is reported that the Saudi team will be led by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who has been identified by CIA as issuing the order to eliminate the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. The British newspaper The Guardian reported that “Other western intelligence agencies are said to share that assessment.” President Erdogan of Turkey has taken a very strong stance against the Saudi role in the killing, and it is not clear whether there will be any fallout from the Khashoggi affair in Buenos Aires. “His presence will pose a dilemma for world leaders on whether to participate in meetings with him—and could throw preparations for the summit into crisis,” according to The Guardian.
Trouble may also be brewing in Macri's own backyard. Only last week, the former Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) played host to another global gathering, an anti G20 summit, in Buenos Aires to “come together to think and debate how to build more fair and egalitarian societies.” The First World Forum of Critical Thinking lasted from November 19-23 and was attended by more than 600 participants representing over 52 countries. The attendees consisted of world leaders, intellectuals, activists and “leaders of social and popular movements, human rights organisations, student organisations, feminists, anti-racists, anti-imperialists and ecologists, as well as teachers, researchers and students from all walks of life.”
CFK invited many former and current progressive leaders to the counter-summit, including former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera, Uruguay's former president Jose Mujica, former Colombian president Ernesto Samper, Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel of Argentina, and human rights activist Estela de Carlotto.
CFK criticised the administration of Macri for the USD 57 billion bailout loan from IMF last September, which came with stringent conditions, including a commitment to a zero deficit for 2019. By accepting this loan, she said, Macri “merely manages what is dictated to him.”
Dr Abdullah Shibli is an economist, and Senior Research Fellow, International Sustainable Development Institute (ISDI), a think-tank in Boston, USA. His new memoir Fairy Tales: Stories from My Life will soon be published by Jonantik.