More than a photo op: G20 wasn't a total failure, but...


US President Donald Trump, left, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.-AP
US President Donald Trump, left, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.-AP

But do leaders of this dominant club really make the most of the two-day window that the forum affords them?

By Vicky Kapur (From the Executive Editor's desk)

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Published: Sat 29 Jun 2019, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 30 Jun 2019, 7:58 PM

As meetings of the heads of state go, the annual G20 Summit is right up there, offering the perfect platform to discuss opportunities and address issues of common (read: global) interest. The Group of Twenty is an all-powerful group, with the G20 economies collectively accounting for half of the world's land area, 66 per cent of the earth's population, 80 per cent of the global trade, and 90 per cent of the global GDP. When such a power-packed forum convenes once a year, it brings together leaders from the mightiest nations - along with their finance and foreign ministers. So the annual opportunity that it offers to do good and mend what is broken in the components that power the world's economy, trade, environment and other such critical engines is not to be sneezed at.
But do leaders of this dominant club really make the most of the two-day window that the forum affords them? Or is it just another diplomatic jamboree, a handshake opportunity, better known for the jostling between global leaders for who gets to be in the front row of the so-called family photo than the declaration they sign at the end of it? If one were to look back at the news emanating out of the just-concluded 2019 G20 Osaka Summit, the two most reported achievements are that one, the US and China have decided to resume trade talks after putting a pin in their tit-for-tat tariff hikes. And two, that despite their very vocal differences, the G19+1 have agreed to a climate change declaration, on the same lines as Argentina. The US stuck to its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
The body language - the hugs, the smiles, the fist-bumps, and the handshakes - all made news (including German Chancellor Angela Merkel's pre-G20 summit trembling). As did the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping made a last-minute switch with the Turkish president, giving up his spot right next to US President Donald Trump. Now these are carefully calibrated and assigned spots and one can be sure that such moves are not body odour-driven, but this made bigger news than the fact that there was no consensus on migration - despite the recent grim reminders given by the pictures of the bodies of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his toddler daughter, who drowned in the muddy waters of the Rio Grande.
Then again, irrespective of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's scheduled public testimony on July 17, Trump's light-hearted 'warning' to Putin to not meddle in the 2020 US Presidential elections received widespread press. In fact, it was reported more than the fact that there was no real consensus on climate change - apologies but "we will look into a wide range of clean technologies and approaches, including smart cities, ecosystem and community-based approaches, nature-based solutions and traditional and indigenous knowledge" hardly demonstrates the urgency required to mitigate the record summer meltdown being witnessed in Europe.
Now don't get me wrong. The fact that Messrs Trump and Xi agreed to a trade truce means a lot to more economies that just theirs, but did they really need the company of the world's most powerful leaders to address what is, essentially, a bilateral issue? The main G20 themes - of sustainable development, global health, women's empowerment, employment, innovation, environment and energy, and the global economy - somehow seemed to have gotten lost in the boisterousness of Osaka. With the baton of the G20 presidency now passing to Saudi Arabia, hopefully Riyadh 2020 will be successful in, in Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's words, "finding consensus to resolve world crises."

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