OSAKA: G20 leaders’ declarations — known as “the communique” — are precise works of diplomatic skill, knitted together painstakingly by the “sherpas” who work behind the scenes to distill the often conflicting views of 20-plus political leaders into a single cohesive display of unanimity. The risk is that they can try to satisfy so many different opinions that they end up as meaningless waffle.
The final communique issued in Osaka on Saturday went some way toward meeting the Japanese hosts’ wish to show unity and compromise, while retaining the substance of the diverging viewpoints on show at the G20. “It was a work of diplomatic art,” said a media professional at the event.
The leaders met, the communique read, “to make united efforts to address major global economic challenges. We will work together to foster global economic growth, while harnessing the power of technological innovation, in particular digitalization, and its application for the benefit of all.”
Nobody could argue with that, except that it gives no flavor of the disagreements over trade, inequality and climate change that were features of the two-day event. That came in the fine detail of the 7,000 word statement.
On the global economy, for example, the leaders observed that “growth remains low and risks remain tilted to the downside,” and reiterated their commitment to do everything in the policy-maker’s book to establish a “virtuous cycle” of growth.
But you had to read down to see that one big reason for the worrying global outlook was the on-off trade war between the US and China.
“We strive to realize a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open,” the leaders said — a position that would make the Chinese and Europeans happy.
But there had to be something too for Donald Trump’s US, which dislikes the World Trade Organization (WTO) and threatens to use tariffs as an instrument of foreign policy. “We reaffirm our support for the necessary reform of the WTO to improve its functions,” the communique said in a sop to the Americans.
“We agree that action is necessary regarding the functioning of the dispute settlement system consistent with the rules as negotiated by WTO members.”
There was a similar fudge in the section on data, one of the big themes of the G20. The Europeans and Americans are all for the free flow of information across borders via the Internet; the big Asian powers are keener on security of data and citizens’ information.
“Cross-border flow of data, information, ideas and knowledge generates higher productivity, greater innovation, and improved sustainable development, while raising challenges related to privacy, data protection, intellectual property rights, and security,” the leaders agreed, but they also noted that “the value of an ongoing discussion on security in the digital economy is growing.”
Inequality — of demographics and gender — is another theme that divides the leaders, but the communique managed to please everybody with an ambitious but bland commitment to “promote decent work and reaffirm our commitment to take actions to eradicate child labor, forced labor, human trafficking and modern slavery in the world of work, including through fostering sustainable global supply chains.”
But it was perhaps the section on “realizing an inclusive and sustainable world” that had to make the most twists and turns to keep everybody happy.
It reaffirmed the global predilection for economic growth and development, but simultaneously said that growth had to be sustainable to “ensure that no one is left behind.” The communique repeated its pledges on African development and investment, as well as the promotion of global health and medical investment.
On climate change — perhaps the second most divisive issue at the G20 after trade — the sherpas had worked hard to make sure nobody stormed out in a fit of anger.
“We emphasize the importance of providing financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in accordance with the Paris Agreement,” the leaders agreed, thereby pacifying the French President Emmanuel Macron, who had threatened to refuse to sign the document unless it mentioned the Paris accords on global warming.
The Americans under Trump, of course, have said they will leave the Paris deal. So, to balance things up, the leaders included a lengthy section on how good the Americans really are on climate and the environment.
“The US’s balanced approach to energy and environment allows for the delivery of affordable, reliable, and secure energy to all its citizens while utilizing all energy sources and technologies, including clean and advanced fossil fuels and technologies, renewables, and civil nuclear power, while also reducing emissions and promoting economic growth. The United States is a world leader in reducing emissions,” the communique said.
Finally, one of the initiatives that Japan was especially proud of at the G20 was the “Osaka Blue Ocean Vision” to stop marine pollution, especially by the plastics industry. That got a big mention toward the end.
The sherpas will be back at their craft next year in Saudi Arabia, followed by Italy and then India.