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 Bretton Woods institutions (IMF and World Bank) participate in G20 meetings together with major international organizations (UN, World Bank, ILO, OECD). Collectively, the G20 brings together economies that represent more than 90% of global GDP, 80% of world trade and two-thirds of the world's population.
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 recognise 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 institutionalised the G20 as the main forum for global economic and financial cooperation. The subsequent G20 summits were organised 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 (Group 1: Australia, Saudi Arabia, Canada and the United States; Group 2: India, Russia, South Africa, Turkey; Group 3: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico; Group 4: France, Germany, Italy and the UK; Group 5: China, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea), with Group 5 starting in 2016 (China), followed by Group 4 (Germany) in 2017 and so on.
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 organisations 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).
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 organised 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.