The G20: A Brief Overview
By admin July 13, 2017

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Not since the G20 London Summit in 2009, set against the backdrop of the Global Financial Crisis, has the meeting of the world’s 20 major economies garnered such widespread attention, intrigue, and tension. This year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel greeted her contemporary heads of state in Hamburg for a weekend of high-level discussions on key policy issues facing the world.

This year’s Summit took place amidst a swathe of rising geopolitical tensions; the ongoing Brexit negotiations, Russia’s hacking of the 2016 US Election, America’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement as well as North Korea’s recent launch of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. Beyond the global issues at hand, much of the media attention was squarely focused on President Trump, a novice in the arena of global diplomacy, as his approach to foreign affairs continues to strain international cohesion.

The United States’ isolated stance on climate change failed to deter other world leaders with 19 of the G20 countries reaffirming their “irreversible” and “strong” commitment to implementing the Paris Climate Agreement. Despite wavering support from Saudi Arabia and Indonesia who considered watering down their commitment, and Erodgan warning Turkey may still not ratify the Agreement, French President Emmanuel Macron and Merkel consolidated collaborative support for global climate action.

The final communiqué of the G20 reflected the divergence in positions towards climate change – acknowledging the withdrawal of the United States from the Agreement and Washington’s wish to continue using and selling fossil fuels as well as a climate and energy plan for the other members to achieve the targets agreed upon in Paris in 2015. At the end of the two-day discussion, Merkel told reporters “I think it’s very clear that we could not reach consensus, but the differences were not papered over, they were clearly stated.”

Like climate change, issues concerning trade were center stage in Hamburg, a city synonomous with openness and international trade. Increasing disagreements over free trade and the impact of trade imbalances galvanised discussions. While Washington and Brussels have espoused conflicting views on trade recently, the Summit did not depart from the current global regulatory system.

The Summit produced a condemnation of protectionism and isolationism, acknowledging that trade must be “reciprocal and mutually advantageous” while citing countries may use “legitimate trade defense instruments” if being taken advantage of – affording Trump sufficient flexibility to continue with his “America First” policy agenda.

Somewhat surprisingly, despite there being universal condemnation of North Korea’s missile test, there was no formal statement from the G20 to this end.

Unsurprisingly, what many in the Western media were waiting for was President Trump’s highly anticipated first face-to-face meeting with Russia’s President Putin. In a bilateral closed-off meeting that stretched over two hours the two heads of state and their respective foreign ministers discussed a plethora of issues facing the two countries. Although no transcript of the meeting has been forthcoming, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump raised the issue of Russia’s hacking in the 2016 election whilst the two leaders also discussed a working group on cybersecurity and brokering a ceasefire in Syria.

While the multi and bi-lateral meetings unfolded on the inside of the tightly secured premises, on the outside, police clashed with thousands of anti-capitalist protesters, initially exercising their right to assemble but which took a violent turn with fires being set, looting and barricades being built.

Despite the violence, the G20 continues to grow in stature and importance as collective action is universally sought after. Whilst differences and clashing visions remain commonplace, the common pursuit of global prosperity is what drives international cohesion.


Further Reading

Europe After the G20 Summit

G20 economies buck Trump’s protectionist trade tone

World Leaders Move Forward on Climate Change, Without U.S.

Angela Merkel Says Growth Must Be Inclusive, as Anti-Globalization Activists Descend on the G20 Summit

The G20 Summit In Hamburg: Key Issues

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