You’ve heard of the G20 – now get ready for the B20

January 30, 2009

Speaking today at the WEF meeting in Davos, HSBC Group chairman Stephen Green called for the setting up of a “Business 20″ – or B20 – forum comprised of the world’s largest companies, including those in the developing world, with a focus on those with international operations.


The body, which would mirror the G20 group of the world’s largest economies, would not be a lobby group but would provide a forum to “help inform policy and create more a stable global economy,” Green said. “It will be non-partisan. It will promote open markets. It will be the voice of sustainable business.”


Green added that the proposal has the support of the current chair of the G20, the UK government.


It’s certainly an intriguing idea. But the potential for an almighty squabble as companies compete to be included is enormous.


Deciding who gets to be in the G20 is ticklish enough and that only involves selecting 20 countries from a possible 200 or so. How much more tricky would it be to find a consensus on which 20 companies should be in the B20 from a sample size of thousands? 


Even thinking about dividing the candidates geographically underlines the likely difficulties.


How about this for a league table done by country? 


Three companies from the US (the world’s biggest economy, the ones who started all the problems in the first place, and home to the globe’s most important and powerful companies).
Two from Japan (the world’s second biggest economy).
Two from the UK (that’s one more, given that HSBC has presumably pencilled itself in).
Two from Germany (Europe’s biggest economy).
Two from France (try telling the French they can’t have as many as the Germans or the Brits).
Two from China (one of the world’s fastest growing economies and obviously one of increasing economic significance).
Two from India (see China).
One from Russia (of huge strategic significance, if rapidly decreasing wealth).
One from Brazil (another EM giant and a representative of Latin America).
One from the Middle East (a region that would surely demand representation and still has some money to back up its claim).
One from Africa (not perhaps economically very important, but symbolically vital).
One from Australia (again, an important country if the B20 hopes to be representative). 



That’s 20 already and it leaves out, for example, Mexico and South Korea and has no representation from South-East Asia. It also looks very different from the membership of the G20 itself.


But would the US be happy being outnumbered by Europeans? Would it make sense to have only three US companies, given their global significance? Is that list too skewed to the emerging markets?



And then imagine the fun as all of the major businesses in the US fight for those five slots, or all the Chinese firms scrap for their two places. Truth be told, it sounds like an excellent spectator sport.

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