Time to expand the role of the G20

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 | Jennifer Clibbon

Former prime minister Paul Martin probably knows more about the G20 than almost anyone on the planet.

Indeed, he was one of the initial architects of that first meeting of G20 finance ministers in 1999, as the Asian financial crisis was unfolding.

In 2008, as another global financial crisis was underway, then U.S. president George W. Bush raised the ante, remaking the G20 gathering as a leaders' forum.

Still, the G20 mandate has almost always focused on financial and economic issues, like international debt and banking regulations, which are on the agenda for Toronto.

It is a slightly different focus for the more exclusive G8 gathering, which, because it comprises the so-called rich countries, typically deals as well with issues of global development, such as aid to Africa.

But Martin, who now spends much of his time doing charitable work related to Africa and Canada's aboriginal communities, has been very vocal of late that it is time for an expanded role for the G20.

He spoke with CBC producer Jennifer Clibbon on the upcoming G20 summit and what he hopes it will accomplish.

Clibbon: You have argued that the G20 discussions should include climate change and global poverty. With regard to climate change, what specifically are you calling for?

Martin: The Mexicans are trying to rekindle the momentum that the climate change issue had. They are focusing specifically on how do you finance the battle against climate change and, even more specifically, on the needs for mitigation and adaptation by the developing countries.

Those are financial issues. They will be dealt with in Cancun at the end of this year and it is very important that the G20 send the message that, in fact, they will stand behind the promises that were made at Copenhagen.

That is to say, $30 billion fast start for the developing world over the course of the next two years and, following that, the $100 billion that they expect to involve the private sector in, over the course of the next 10 years.

You've also said global poverty should be on the agenda. Isn't that more of a G8 issue, something for the donor countries to take on?

Martin: That has been said by other people, that the G8 is where the cheque writers come from.

That would come as a great surprise to Australia, which is certainly a donor country, especially in the Far East.

If someone thinks China is not a donor country, let them come with me to Africa and tell that to the Africans, who regard China as the single largest donor in their backyard.

If somebody wants to make this distinction that the G20 deals with financial and economic issues, and the G8 deals with social issues, let them tell somebody who is terribly poor in Central America or in Africa that those aren't economic issues.

How then do you envision an expanded role for the G20?

Martin: The G20 was essentially created for two reasons. First of all, the G8 was unable to deal with many issues that had become gridlocked. The reason it was not able to do that was because China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies were not at table.

My view is that the role of the G20 is to make globalization work. To make it work you have to deal with those gridlock issues.

Let me give you an example, Canada intends to bring maternal health and children's health to the G8. That's a tremendous initiative.

But even the NGOs who asked Canada to bring it to the G8 have recognized very clearly that unless it goes to the wider G20 meeting, it isn't going to happen in any where near the degree that they would like to see, or that I would like to see.

Given that you think global poverty should be a key issue, why wasn't there greater representation of African countries in the original conception of the G20?

Martin: Nigeria was on the original list. Unfortunately, at that time Nigeria was going through some major government upheavals, which it still is in a certain way.

Under those circumstances it was deemed that we had to have greater stability in order for Nigeria to be there.

This is clearly an area that has to be remedied. I don't think we should be reviewing the membership. That would be to open a Pandora's box and would freeze a lot of progress. But there are certain areas where change has to be brought and I think that African representation is one of them.

As an architect of the G20, it must have been interesting to observe the differences on issues and approaches among the key countries. Could you reflect on this?

Martin: Where G20 originally started was at the finance level. The skills of the finance ministers and of the central bank governors of the emerging economies was every bit as good it was in the G8 countries.

These were people, many of whom had been trained at the same universities. Many of us knew each other very well before the first G20 meeting. From a point of view of skills, there was no differential, nor was there in terms of understandings.

Were there differences of opinions? Yes, there were. But there were differences of opinion within the G8 as well. Russia didn't necessarily share the same views as the U.S. does, anymore than China or India necessarily share the same views today.

China comes to the G20 with its own set of demands and a need for recognition. How do you accommodate an ascendant China at this summit and in the future?

Martin: China isn't asking only for its own needs. China is really saying that the emerging economies as a whole have to be better reflected in places like the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, and with considerable justification.

What they are essentially saying is let the world's institutions reflect the reality of the world.

Clearly Europe is over-represented in these institutions, as it was over-represented in the G8.

When you consider China, Japan, the growth of India and Brazil, when you recognize their influence today in the global economy and the fact that that's where the bulk of the world's growth is coming from, then it only stands to reason that their reality should be reflected in these institutions.

Many Africans worry that if the G8 disappears, then the G20 might not be in a position to keep the development commitments. What do you say?

Martin: The single biggest donor in Africa is China. India is probably more influential than a great number of European countries on the ground today.

Fundamentally, one of the reasons for the G20 is to make sure that we are coordinated on Central America and Africa.

Africa has to be brought into globalization. If Africa is going to be able to develop an internal common market, if it's going to have the money available for infrastructure and to make the transition to the global economy, it is going to require not simply the G8 countries, it's going to require the major Asian countries to be at the table to make this happen.

They are actively involved there, so let's make it happen in the best way possible.

You have said that Canada has a chance to take a leadership role at the G20 meeting. How is this an historic moment for Canada?

Martin: Well, we're not going to hold another G20 meeting for 20 years.

The host has an enormous opportunity to influence these kinds of summit meetings. We saw it at the G20 meetings in Washington and London and Pittsburgh. We saw it at the G8 meeting at Gleneagles [in 2005] where Tony Blair took the lead on Africa.

I believe that under these circumstances, if Canada really wants to make maternal health work, it has to bring it to the G20 as well.

If Canada wants to respect the wishes of the rest of the world, including the president of Mexico who came to Canada to make that request, we will deal with climate change.

I believe very strongly that it's a mistake for Canada to simply back away from bank regulation, from the need to have increased bank capital and leave that for another time.

Canada and its officials have led the battle in terms of bank regulation, which is at the core of this financial crisis. We've been at it since the Asian crisis.

I think it should be dealt with by Canada. I think if we do that, then Canada will leave a mark on the world and on the G20 in a way that will be felt positively for generations to come.