Global Policy Forum

G20 Big Powers Under Scrutiny by Smaller Nations






Thalif Deen

March 23, 2010

When the G20, representing some of world's politically and economically powerful developing and industrial nations, suddenly gained a higher profile with the onset of the global financial crisis two years ago, there was apprehension the group would sooner or later try to upstage the United Nations and its key decision-making role.

Now, some of the smaller and medium-sized members of the United Nations, who are unwilling to be shut out of the discussions, are speaking up.

A 23-member informal coalition, known as the Global Governance Group or 3G, has been formed to ensure that the legitimacy of the world body is not hijacked by the G20.

"The United Nations is the only global body with universal participation and unquestioned legitimacy," the 3G says in a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The G20 process should not only recognise and reflect this reality, but should also ensure that its actions and decisions complement and strengthen the United Nations, the letter adds.

The 3G is also requesting that the participation of the U.N. secretary-general at G20 summits and preparatory meetings "be formalised".

This year's G20 summits are scheduled to take place in Toronto, Canada from Jun. 26-27, and in the South Korean capital of Seoul Nov. 11-12.

The letter also calls for "sufficient flexibility in the G20 process to provide for the participation of non-G20 members in discussions on specialised issues."

The last two G20 summits included the participation of several regional organisations, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the African Union (AU) Commission, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

The 3G says such regional bodies should not only fully participate in the G20 and its associated processes, but their participation should also be regularised.

The G20 includes the "world's most industrialised nations" - also members of the more elite G8 - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Britain and the United States.

Its other members are Australia, Mexico, Turkey and South Korea (categorised as industrial nations), Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa (categorised as developing nations), plus the 27-member European Union.

The newly-formed 3G comprises Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Botswana, Brunei, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Jamaica, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Monaco, New Zealand, Panama, the Philippines, Qatar, Rwanda, San Marino, Senegal, Singapore, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Asked if the G20 would eventually upstage the United Nations as a major political and economic forum, Ambassador Vanu Gopala Menon of Singapore, one of the initiators of the 3G, told IPS: "The United Nations has its strengths."

He said the U.N. is the only global body with universal participation and unquestioned legitimacy. It also has a charter and the ability to make binding decisions on the international community.

Furthermore, he pointed out, it has a global reach with its wide array of operational agencies on the ground.

"The G20 process and its actions and decisions should complement and strengthen the United Nations," he added.

An African diplomat told IPS there were also fears the seven G20 countries who are members of the Group of 77 developing nations - Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa - can swing either way - advocate the cause of the world's poorer nations inside the G20, or protect their own economic interests vis-a-vis the industrial world.

"It's worth watching how the developing countries of the G20 will play the high-stakes game in what was originally the rich man's club," he said.

As a premonition of things to come, he pointed out, at least one head of government from a major developing country skipped the U.N. General Assembly sessions last year to attend the G20 summit held in the United States, although the two meetings closely followed each other in timing.

"The G20 meeting was probably more important than the U.N. sessions," he said. "It may be the shape of things to come."

Asked what prompted the 23 countries to set up the informal 3G, Menon told IPS that since November 2008, the G20 has taken on an increasingly active role in catalysing global actions in response to the financial and economic crisis.

While the G20 process and the swift, decisive actions it brought about helped to avert a global economic depression last year, a number of questions have been raised, he said.

These include how decisions are going to be made in the future on global economic issues, what the G20 process might mean for the United Nations, and how the decisions taken by the G20 might affect the rest of the U.N. membership.

It was against this backdrop, said Menon, that the small and medium sized states came together to discuss and address these questions.

"Our view is that for the G20's deliberations to be translated into effective actions on a global scale, they will need to be more consultative, inclusive and transparent," he said.

This will require the development of appropriate mechanisms to engage and consult the wider U.N. membership, he added.

The 3G is not meant to be an exclusive grouping, Menon. "We are open to countries that agree with our shared ideas," as laid out in a paper "Strengthening the Framework for G-20 Engagement of Non-Members", and circulated as a U.N. document last week.


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