The world’s expanding top table
— Paul Taylor is a Reuters columnist, the views expressed are his own —
LONDON (Reuters) – Move over America! Make space Europe! The world’s top leadership table is expanding to bring in emerging powers from Asia, Africa and Latin America to help rescue the global economy.
This week’s Washington summit of 20 nations, called to discuss reforming the international financial system and avert a further worsening of the credit crisis that began in the United States, sets a precedent for a new international order.
Emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico are invited to share responsibility for the economic fate of the planet with the established Group of Eight industrialized nations — the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Canada and Russia.
Saudi Arabia is urged to disgorge its petrodollars and China to tap its $1.9 trillion reserves to underwrite rescue packages and buttress a Western-dominated financial system the collapse of which would wreak even worse devastation around the world.
No longer mere appendages invited for lunch at the end of the annual G8 summit, the rising powers are in demand because they have either mountains of cash, vital natural resources, fast-growing economies or regional security responsibilities.
Will they cooperate, and what do they want in exchange?
“A voice is the most important thing,” said a former senior U.S. financial policymaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“As they look out at global economic prospects, they will also want to see that their money is going to be safe. They will want to see a plan that gives them confidence,” he said.
Beyond that, some of the key holders of dollars and oil may seek security guarantees and assurances that the West will not discriminate against investments by their sovereign wealth funds or their exports during the coming recession.
In a joint statement, the so-called BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — called last week for “reform of multilateral institutions in order that they reflect the structural changes in the world economy and the increasingly central role that emerging markets now play”. They also sought assurances against protectionism in the financial crisis.
INTERESTS AT STAKE
Here are some of the interests at stake for key players:
CHINA – The world’s most populous nation, a nuclear power and member of the U.N. Security Council, still regards itself as a developing country. Its communist rulers have just announced a huge domestic stimulus package of public investment but they are deeply cautious about opening up further to the world economy.
Chinese investment has not always been welcome in the United States, where many in Congress accuse Beijing of keeping its currency artificially cheap and want to curb imports from China.
Beijing has said nothing about its terms for helping bail out the capitalist West, but it is likely to want a bigger voice in global economic governance and some guarantees against protectionist steps by Washington and Brussels.
It may also want to ease Western pressure on it to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against global warming.
INDIA – The world’s second most populous country has long sought a larger role in global leadership and sees itself as a spokesman for the developing world.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for reform of the United Nations Security Council and the G8, implicitly to give India a permanent seat in both.
“Our voice on how to manage this crisis in a way that does not jeopardize our development priorities needs to be heard in international councils,” he told a summit with fellow emerging powers Brazil and South Africa last month.
India seeks both assurances against Western protectionism and the right to continue protecting its subsistence farmers. It too wants to deflect Western pressure to curb emissions which it says would deny its right to economic development.
SAUDI ARABIA – The world’s biggest oil exporter is the only Middle Eastern state in the G20, frustrating Egypt, which lacks resources but sees itself as the leader of the Arab world.
Arab specialists say Riyadh seeks above all U.S. protection against Iran’s growing regional power and nuclear ambitions and from the ascendancy of Shi’ite Muslims in Iraq, which it fears will embolden Shi’ite minorities around the Gulf.
It also wants the next U.S. administration to take up an Arab League plan for peace with Israel and pressure the Jewish state to reach accommodations with Syria and the Palestinians and to stop discrimination against Arab investments, such as the blocking of Dubai Ports World’s purchase of six U.S. ports.
The Saudi monarchy also wants an end to what it regards as destabilizing U.S. pressure for democracy in the Middle East.
INCUMBENT POWERS UNEASY
The first-ever G20 leaders summit, for which the European Union has made all the running, comes in the lame-duck period when President George W. Bush is preparing to hand over to President- elect Barack Obama, putting Washington on the defensive.
“It is outrageous that the Europeans would take advantage of the moment of maximum U.S. weakness to call such a meeting,” the former U.S. financial policymaker said.
The G20 was created in 1999 but until now has been limited to broad-brush discussions among finance and monetary officials.
The world’s only superpower prefers bilateral financial diplomacy, in which it has the upper hand, and tried-and-tested smaller formats such as the G7 grouping of finance ministers and central bankers, which does not include Russia.
Washington is trying to deflect a battery of ideas from hyper-active French President Nicolas Sarkozy for supranational regulation or supervision of financial markets, hedge funds, private equity, mortgage lenders and sovereign wealth funds.
The EU has led pressure to expand the G8 to incorporate the emerging nations, whose cooperation the Europeans see as vital not only to help restore financial stability but also on issues such as trade liberalization and fighting climate change.
Despite anomalies in its make-up, such as the inclusion of Argentina, the G20 summit is well placed to become a key forum on financial reform because it already exists, and there are plans to hold a series of such meetings.
This might prove more practical than British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s proposal for a sweeping review of the post-World War Two financial order, known as Bretton Woods.
But the G20 may be too unwieldy to be effective, and smaller leadership forums seem bound to emerge. One favorite is a G13 or G14 — a forum that would expand the G8 to include China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. Some see an Arab or Muslim member, either Egypt or Saudi Arabia, as essential.
Spain, Europe’s fifth largest economy and the world’s ninth but not a G20 member, announced at the weekend that it had won a last-minute invitation to the summit.
However many policymakers, both in the United States and in the developing world, see the over-representation of Europe at the world’s top tables as part of the problem.
The Europeans only reluctantly yielded a little of their voting powers to China in the International Monetary Fund this year. The big EU member states remain unwilling to pool their seats into a single EU delegation in global institutions, with the notable exception of the World Trade Organization.
But a further redistribution of European and U.S. votes at the IMF and some consolidation of Europe’s seats at the world’s top tables may be the price to pay for the emerging world’s help in resolving this financial crisis.
(Pictured above: Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega, South Africa’s Finance Minister Trevor Manuel (R) and British Treasury Financial Secretary Stephen Timms (L) attend a news conference in Sao Paulo November 9, 2008.)