The G20 should be the ‘T20’ – trustees not just of the 20 rich countries that sit at their meetings but also of the 172 nations that are denied a seat at their table.
This powerful statement has been advanced jointly by the Secretaries-General of the Commonwealth and La Francophonie, two organizations whose members are mostly developing states.
The custodians of the G20’s self-bestowed mandate to oversee the world economy justify their monopoly of global decision-making on the fact that they account for 90% of global GDP. But, while that is so, 90% of the world’s countries are excluded from their discussions.
As the two Secretaries General (Kamalesh Sharma, Commonwealth and Abdou Diouf, La Francophonie) have argued: “The simple fact of globalization dictates that all countries, the world over, have been affected by a tsunami of crises – of finance and food, of energy and the environment. Equally, all have an interest in what goes into the G20 meeting, and what comes out of it”.
Almost a year ago (October 2009) in a commentary entitled ‘Can the Caribbean depend on the G20?’, I made the argument that “Membership of the G20 has little to do with fair representation and much to do with self interest. Together, the G20 countries cover more than eighty-five percent of world economic activity.
They can afford to ignore, or at least pay lip service to, the other nations who account for the remaining fifteen percent of global economic activity, even as Ban-ki-Moon, the UN secretary-General, reminds that eighty-five percent of the world’s countries are not represented at the G20. In the end it is power that matters and power in this instance is purchasing capacity and market size.”
I argued then that the Caribbean collectively should argue for a seat at the G20 table to advance its own interests which are neglected by the International Financial Institutions that continue to apply traditional prescriptions and criteria to Caribbean problems, many of which are caused by events in the world’s richest economies such as the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Japan.
No initiative has been pursued by the Caribbean in this regard as far as I know.
Three G20 meetings have now been held without representation by the small states in Africa, Oceania, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. I acknowledge that Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, as Chairman of the last G20 meeting in Toronto did have a meeting with the Secretaries-General of the Commonwealth and La Francophonie to get an understanding of the challenges faced by the member countries of their organizations that were not represented at the meeting. But, Prime Minister Harper’s generous concern for non-represented countries, while laudable, is not a substitute for a structured and predictable participation in the G20 deliberations by the world’s small countries.
The call that inspired the American Revolution, “No taxation without representation”, is relevant today in the international political economy. G20 countries consume the majority of the world’s resources; they are its biggest polluters; and their actions, across a variety of areas, materially affect the survival of smaller countries. They should at least listen to the valid problems of others. The G20 cannot claim economic leadership but deny economic responsibility and obligations.
The G20 countries – even the large developing countries such as China, India and Brazil – prefer to limit the number of nations in their council, keeping it as a club for large nations that now aims to set the economic parameters for the world to fit their purpose. It also suits them to keep their relations with small economies at a bilateral level where enough can be done to maintain influence over them without overhauling the global apparatus, such as the International Financial Institutions and the World Trade Organization in which small states are disadvantaged.
Given this reality, small sates should seek to institutionalize the initiative taken by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to invite the Secretaries-General of the Commonwealth and La Francophonie for consultations prior to the meeting. They should push to ensure that the Chair person of every G20 meeting seeks proposals from the two Secretaries-General on behalf of their disenfranchised members, and that such proposals are tabled and considered by the meeting .
In the case of the Commonwealth, 32 of its 54 members are small states and five of its larger members – Australia, Britain, Canada, India, and South Africa - are members of the G20. La Francophonie has 56 member states. Ten countries are members of both organizations, which together comprise 72 countries that are not represented at the G20.
Surely, proposals from two persons representing 72 countries and almost a billion people should be welcome by the G20 in a spirit of genuine regard not only for international democracy, but also for dealing with the plight of small countries that have been hit particularly hard by the effects of the international financial crisis and who are still suffering from its consequences.
The two Secretaries-General have publicly observed that, for 2010 alone, the World Bank has indicated that US$315 billion is required to meet the gap between what developing countries require and what is currently available if they are to meet the Millennium Development Goals set by all nations. They have proposed that “the G20 should endorse a serious action plan to identify innovative potential sources of non-sovereign financing, embracing widespread consultation with those not at their table”.
If the Caribbean cannot collectively push for a seat at the G20 table, the region should at least join other small countries in seeking to institutionalize Prime Minister Harper’s initiative that the Commonwealth Secretary-General presents our case to which we should contribute well researched and viable arguments.