Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

G20 talks should be followed by meaningful action

Finding collective solutions to globally pressing problems is key

French President Emmanuel Macron and France's First Lady Brigitte Macron in Argentina for the G20 summit. Ludovic Marin / AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron and France's First Lady Brigitte Macron in Argentina for the G20 summit. Ludovic Marin / AFP

As more than 50 ministers and world leaders meet today in Argentina for this year’s G20 summit, they will have three priorities in mind: the future of work, infrastructure for development and sustainable food production. These themes, embracing everything from agriculture and the digital economy to education, climate change and gender equality, have been the subject of more than 45 meetings in 11 cities this year, involving thousands of officials from G20 nations. But it is what happens on the sidelines of the leaders’ summit in Buenos Aires over the next couple of days that will set the tone for international relations for the immediate future. There will be the inevitable speeches and photo opportunities but the real business – tackling crucial issues from trade tariffs to oil prices – will take place in back rooms and corridors.

Gathering the most powerful people in the world in one place is a unique opportunity for airing critical differences, allowing world leaders to move beyond posturing and onto the business of getting things done. The G20 has proven effective on many issues, from its ongoing anti-corruption initiative, which has had a global impact since it was launched in 2010, to the $1 trillion jobs-and-credit regeneration package launched in 2009 after the global crash. Much of the focus this week will be on the relationship between Donald Trump’s America and the rest of the world. He has a busy couple of days ahead. Whether that involves a one-to-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin remains to be seen. They have much to discuss, including the Russian attack on Ukrainian warships that might yet scupper the planned meeting, Russia’s expansionist policy and its alleged interference in other countries’ elections. Mr Trump is also expected to host a dinner on Saturday for Chinese President Xi Jinping and political commentators will be waiting to see whether the two reach an accord on their damaging tariffs war. Certainly since the last time the G20 met, there has been an increase in protectionism, with worrying implications for world trade. The summit is also be the first time Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has appeared before the international community since the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Differences aside, the global alliances played out on the G20 stage are a reminder of the benefits of having such a forum to establish consensus on the issues that matter. They might not always deliver on the promises made but such platforms give hope of talk followed by meaningful action. It is only when their leaders sit down together that there is a real chance of finding collective solutions to globally pressing issues.