What to Expect from the G20 Summit

Next week, President Obama will join eight prime ministers, 11 presidents, one chancellor, one king, and a smattering of international organization leaders in London for the second-ever meeting of G20 leaders. Their mission? To stop the world economic free fall and ensure a similar financial crisis..

Next week, President Obama will join eight prime ministers, 11 presidents, one chancellor, one king, and a smattering of international organization leaders in London for the second-ever meeting of G20 leaders.Their mission? To stop the world economic free fall and ensure a similar financial crisis cannot happen again. Also on the agenda are new roles for the IMF and World Bank, low-carbon paths to economic recovery, helping developing nations cope, and unfreezing global trade talks.Unfortunately, there are reasons to doubt we will see substantial progress next week. First, there is a genuine, substantive disagreement between Europe and the United States about what to prioritize. America wants to focus more on stimulus measures while Europe wants to get started on implementing new regulations. This stalemate continues. Second, a wave of protectionist trade measures is sweeping the globe, making it hard to imagine how the G20 will restart stalled trade talks that, after all, ended because of long-standing disagreements. Finally, the agenda is just too massive for 26 leaders (not 20, as the name suggests), who have never worked together before, and who will each want to say their piece.Even so, the G20 meeting fills a real gap in the international system, and I hope leaders decide to make it permanent. It is certainly a marked improvement over its predecessor the G8, which didn't include emerging economies like China, India, Brazil, nor any Islamic or African countries, and so couldn't get much done. In a small forum like this, behind closed doors, leaders can, in theory anyway, make deals across different issue areas that could advance the common good-"I'll trade you greater IMF authority for lower emissions targets." They can also coordinate the individual steps they are all taking to restart their economies, without which each country's efforts will be worth much less. If the pivotal powers of the world are to collaborate on challenges they share, they will need a place to meet. (For more on powers collaborating, see this bizarre yet compelling video).Some colleagues and I have written a report suggesting how the G20 should evolve. Most controversial, but most interesting, is our suggestion that the membership be refreshed every five years to be sure the top economies are still represented. That would avoid a problem haunting many global institutions these days-that they represent power structures of the past.Even if the G20 doesn't hit a home run, we can still expect some news out of London. While he is there, Barack Obama will have his first meetings with President Hu of China and President Medvedev of Russia. In the context of their inclusion in the elite decision-making forum of the G20, maybe they will be in a "common good" frame of mind and his efforts to persuade them to help with issues like Iran's nuclear program, Sudan's refugees, and climate change will yield results.Guest blogger Nina L. Hachigian is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.Photo of Saturday's G20 protest from Flickr user Fabbio used under a Creative Commons license.

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