On Aug. 27, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) assembled a panel to discuss the G20 Summit scheduled for Sept. 5 and 6 in St. Petersburg, Russia. What message the Russians are sending by scheduling the meetings over the Jewish New Year is not immediately apparent, but might be revealed by some enterprising reporter.
Expectations for this meeting could hardly be lower, but it provides an opportunity to take an inventory of the outstanding issues and to sample the rhetoric employed by people who follow them for a living.
The first speaker, Heather Conley, director of the CSIS' Europe program, discussed the agenda for preliminary meetings to be held in Stockholm by the members of the Arctic Council, issues that receive very little attention in the U.S. media.
Most intriguing is that fact that a Chinese ship is now passing through the Arctic channel. Conley praised Sweden as "an extraordinary ally" that has supported international deployments, even with troops in some instances, to a significant extent for a neutral country.
In her opinion, the EU debt crisis has faded for the time being in favor of attention to the National Security Agency (NSA)'s Prism scandal, relations with Russia and the upheavals in the Middle East. She added later that the NSA scandal has dominated the German election campaign and is "not going away."
Matthew Goodman, chair in political economy at the CSIS, followed with a detailed rendition of the plans for the summit, which is especially interesting given that no schedule has been formally furnished. Evidently the most significant meetings will take place early in the week among the sherpas and financial deputies to prepare whatever "deliverables" might be forthcoming at the formal meetings.
The U.S. sherpa is the able veteran adviser to Democratic administrations, Caroline Atkinson, who was appointed deputy national security advisor for international economics this summer. Her remarkable list of prior affiliations include the Treasury, International Monetary Fund, Bank of England, Council on Foreign Relations, The Washington Post, The Economist and the Times of London.
It is evident that the meetings provide for sumptuous meals in a palatial environment. The formal program will begin after lunch on Thursday. The Russians have added so-called B20 events for Friday morning; the B20 is supposed to discuss business issues affecting the member countries.
Early Friday afternoon, presumably after another lunch, should be prime time for so-called "bilaterals," which are side discussions among pairs of countries. Goodman mentioned discussions between the United States and China and Japan, respectively, as most important.
Later on Friday afternoon, the formal meetings will conclude with a press conference and release of the communique, which is expected to contain upwards of 85 paragraphs covering the topics that require official pronouncements.
The overriding theme for the meeting is supposed to be "sustainable, inclusive, balanced, growth" and job creation, based on three components:
1. Quality jobs and investments.
2. Trust and transparency.
3. Effective regulation.
(From the standpoint of the U.S. financial sector, this should provide some comic relief.)
There follows a somewhat repetitious list of eight "areas:"
1. Strong, sustainable, balanced growth.
3. Reform of International Financial Institutions (IMF, World Bank, regional development banks).
4. Strengthening financial regulation.
5. Sustainable energy.
Goodman went on to remark that Syria is not on the formal agenda. The European Union is expected to crow about the first quarter of positive growth in the last nine quarters. The United States cannot be the only global engine of growth, and there are significant risks and imbalances in the global economy.
The prospect of the United States "tapering" its purchases of financial assets has created considerable volatility in financial markets, especially among the emerging countries. The United States will say that these concerns are the natural result of the growth strategies the United States has employed in the wake of the 2008 episode of the ongoing financial crisis and that the stresses among the emerging economies are homegrown in those countries.
Other perennial topics are international tax cooperation, agriculture and infrastructure development, efforts to shore up the so-called "standstill" agreement among the G8 against protectionist trade practices and whatever remains of efforts to solve the Doha round of trade negotiations.
In summary, the White House contends that it is still important to hold meetings like this among the countries that represent 85 percent of the global economy, because the meetings can build "habits of cooperation."
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