What is the G20?
The G20 is an informal forum for international cooperation that brings together Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank participate in G20 meetings together with major international organisations (UN, World Bank, ILO, OECD) and Spain (as “Permanent Invitee”). Collectively, the G20 brings together economies that represent more than 80% of global GDP, 75% of world trade and 60% of the world’s population.
How did it start?
In the last decade of the twentieth century, the economic and financial crisis that had affected a number of emerging economies in Latin America and Asia prompted G7 Finance Ministers to recognize that it was crucial to involve other countries in discussions on global economic and financial issues. The need to address and anticipate the evolution of the world economy within a broader framework than that of the G7/G8 arose from the rapidly growing number of countries that up to that moment had been excluded from, or underrepresented in, global economic governance mechanisms (in particular, the so-called BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, but also the new MIKTA: Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia).
The creation of the Group of Twenty (G20) was announced by G7 Finance Ministers at the meeting in Washington DC on September 25th 1999, with the aim of addressing challenges to international financial stability posed by the financial and currency crisis that had begun in Asia in 1997. The Group of Twenty began as an informal dialogue mechanism between “systemically significant” economies to discuss economic stability, sustainable world economic growth and the build-up of a new global financial architecture.
The first G20 meeting was held in Berlin in December 1999, hosted by the Canadian and German Finance Ministers, with the participation of Central Bank Governors and Finance Ministers of member countries.
Following the financial crisis of 2008 the United States proposed raising the G20 participation to leaders’ level (Washington, November 14th – 15th 2008). Almost a year later, at the Summit in Pittsburgh (September 24th – 25th 2009), the Heads of State and Government institutionalized the G20 as the main forum for global economic and financial cooperation. The subsequent G20 summits were organized almost every six months (London in April 2009, Pittsburgh in September 2009, Toronto in June 2010, Seoul in November 2010), until in January 2010 it was decided that after the sixth Summit – scheduled for November 11th – 12th 2010 in South Korea – G20 leaders would meet annually.
At the Cannes Summit (2011), the G20 leaders agreed that the annual presidencies would be chosen from rotating regional groups.
How does it work?
Similarly to the G7/G8, the G20 has no permanent staff or secretariat and the Group’s agenda, together with its activities, are determined by the rotating Presidency in coordination with Member Countries. At the Cannes Summit in 2011, it was decided – in order to ensure continuity in the G20’s work – to introduce a Troika: the current Presidency is assisted by the Presidency from the previous year and the future Presidency.
As part of its outreach activities, each Presidency has the option to invite non-member States and international organizations to participate in the G20 Summit: the number of non-member countries invited normally does not exceed five and should represent different regional areas (Spain is a “permanent invitee”, while the African continent is represented by the two countries holding the Presidency of the African Union and of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development – NEPAD).
What does it do?
Like the G8 during the eighties and nineties, also the G20 has witnessed a gradual expansion of its agenda, particularly since 2011, to cover issues going beyond the economic and financial field: development, energy, climate change, health, etc. In addition to the regular meetings (normally, three per year) held by Finance Ministers, thematic ministerial meetings contributing to the Summit preparatory process are held, albeit not on a regular basis, in specific sectors such as Agriculture, Labour, Development, Trade and Tourism. Furthermore, the G20 has created a number of ad hoc working groups to provide support, e.g., in areas such as macroeconomic policy coordination, reform of the international financial architecture, development cooperation, anti-corruption, employment and energy policies.
Unlike the G7/G8 meetings and those organized in recent years by the BRICS and MIKTA countries, G20 discussions do not “officially” cover foreign policy issues, although clearly the presence of so many world leaders at the Summits represents an important opportunity for dialogue on subjects of current international concern that lie outside the G20’s agenda.
Non-official useful websites
G20 Information Center, University of G20 Information Center, University of Toronto
Participation of international organizations in the G20 process
The 2021 Italian G20 Presidency
On December 1st, 2020 Italy undertook the G20 Presidency. Inevitably influenced by the Covid-19 health crisis, our Presidency focused on the post – pandemic recovery and on the need to build a better, new normality: more sustainable, more resilient and fairer. The programme of work was articulated around three “Ps”: People, Planet and Prosperity. Regarding the first point – People – a lot of attention was devoted to labour issues, gender equality, culture and education. The second pillar – Planet – was focused on the environment, climate and energy-related issues, which are particularly relevant given Italy’s role, in 2021, as both the G20 Presidency and the COP26 Co-Presidency, together with the United Kingdom. The Italian Presidency devoted a lot of attention to the connection between climate and energy, thus promoting an integrated approach and pursuing the following aims: a sustainable and green recovery; support to sustainable and “smart” cities; the alignment of the global capital flows in the direction of a green transition. Other relevant issues pertaining to this pillar were the attention devoted to circular economy and the commitment to put in place the Paris Agreement. Finally, the third P – Prosperity – focused on digitalization, artificial intelligence and the creation of educational paths able to face the social consequences of the digital revolution. This pillar also included discussions about the need to give new impetus to international trade – also through a reform of the WTO – and a special attention devoted to the role of the small and medium enterprises within the global value chains.
On this background, of course, lied the topic of public health too: moving on from the “lessons learned” from the pandemic, the Italian Presidency aimed at reinforcing the international health system, also through a fair access to vaccines – to be considered a global common good – sustained by the “Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) – Accelerator” initiative, an initiative launched in April 2020 by the WHO and firmly supported since its start by the G20.
In the context of its Presidency, Italy convened, in cooperation with the European Commission, the “Global Health Summit”, which took place the 21st of May, 2021. The aim of the summit was to encourage reflection about the strengthening of global health security through cooperation, coordination and joint action. In that occasion, the Leaders agreed upon a set of common principles (“The Rome Declaration”) aiming at stimulating cooperation in the global fora devoted to the topics of prevention and response to the future health crises.
Among the many events of the Italian Presidency, it was convened in Matera, on the 28th and 29th of June, the meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Development Ministers. Its agenda was developed around the need to strengthen international cooperation – and the relevant multilateral institutions – in crucial sectors such as global health, international trade, the fight against climate change, sustainable development. Among the other Ministerial meetings it is also possible to mention: the four meetings of the Finance Ministers, plus one final joint Ministerial meeting on Health and Finance, which took place just before the Final Summit; the joint Ministerial meeting for labour and education; the Ministerial meetings devoted to environmental issues and to climate and energy; the Culture Ministers’ meeting; the Digital and the Research Ministers meetings; the Health ministerial meeting; the Agriculture Ministers’ meeting and the Trade Ministers’ meeting.
Finally, the Leaders’ Summit, which took place in Rome on the 30th and 31st of October, saw among its participants not only the “usual” G20 members, but also six invited Guest Countries (Spain as “Permanent Invitee”; The Netherlands and Singapore as guest countries; Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Brunei as the current Presidencies of the African Union, NEPAD and ASEAN respectively), plus nine Representatives from International Organizations.
Important results have been undoubtedly achieved by our Presidency, as demonstrated by the final “Communiqué”: on the financial side, for instance, an historical agreement on international taxation has been reached in the OECD-G20 framework (it includes the two pillars on the redistribution of the profits of the multinational companies on one side and, on the other side, on the “minimum global tax”). Another important agreement has been reached on the emission of 650 billion dollars in new Special Drawing Rights in favour of vulnerable countries. Quite relevant as well, the decision to create a joint task force on Health and Finance, with the aim of better managing the inevitable future pandemics. The Leaders have also committed to increase the supply and to facilitate the access to vaccines; to financially support – more intensely than in the past – the most vulnerable countries; to pursue the common G20 aim in the context of the fight against climate change. Moreover, during the Rome Summit, the “Matera Declaration” on food security has been formally endorsed and the commitment to implement the “Roadmap towards and beyond the Brisbane Goal” (on women’s empowerment) was expressed. Besides, it is worth mentioning the creation of the “G20 Innovation League”, established under the Italian Presidency; the acknowledgement of the role of culture as a relevant topic for G20 countries; and, last but not least, the adoption of innovative instruments in the fight against corruption and bribery.
Indonesia will start its Presidency on the 1st of December. In order to guarantee continuity of action to the forum, Italy will be part of the so-called “Troika” (the Country which has held the Presidency the previous year, the Country which will hold it the following year and the current Presidency).