How to define a more Southern G-20 agenda

How to define a more Southern G-20 agenda

Another G-20 Summit is approaching in mid-June this year in Los Cabos, Mexico. The G-20 is a forum in which the leaders of major economies essentially compare notes. It is composed of the 20 largest economies of the world, with the exception of Switzerland, the Netherlands and Spain (the last two are coming with the EU delegation anyways).

The G-20 is not a negotiating table. Rather, it serves to give leaders a better personal understanding of global issues at the highest level. A good idea? Definitely. Tip O’Neill famously noted that “all politics is local.” Joe Biden built on that with “all politics is not only local, but also very personal.” Leaders personally comparing notes is good for global peace and prosperity, and the more personal it gets, the more productive it becomes. Studies show, for example, that the G-8 is better at keeping it promises than the G-20. People are much more personal when their numbers are in the single digits.

Having said that, I still have a problem with the agenda of G-20 Summits. Development issues were supposed to have had a more important role since the 2010 Seoul Summit. Yet the emphasis of the agenda has stayed the same, and it is too northern for me, and not nearly structural enough. Let me start with the northernness: Yes, a reference to changing the governance structure of international organizations is on the agenda. The redistribution of voting rights within the IMF is a good example. Is this important? Of course it is. But is that the only hurdle on the road to prosperity in the South? Or is it the centuries-old edifice of trade and logistics spanning the globe?

Let me be more specific: Have you ever tried sending a box from Istanbul to Lahore? You actually go to west to reach the east. Your goods go to Rotterdam or Hamburg first, where they are loaded onto container ships going to Lahore via Karachi. That is how the global system works. It takes 26 days for goods from Istanbul to reach Lahore. We in Turkey like to call Pakistan our “dear friends and brother nation,” but the rhetoric falls flat. Connectivity between Turkey and Pakistan is low, and the same goes for India and China. I believe that we need to go back in time for better South to South connectivity.

We need to go back to the age of railways and the Great Game. People then knew that railway corridors and new trade routes were essential for Southern prosperity. There lies a solid agenda item for the G-20: South-South connectivity. 

The G-20’s focus on current events like the global economic crisis is understandable. That should not however, come at the expense of neglecting structural issues. Is Prime Minister Erdoğan going to raise the issue of double standards in the ratings agencies? There is this prejudice that if anyone from the North has crossed the line, there has to be a good reason. But if anyone from the South is crossing the line, you look for criminal intent. Take crisis practices in the North and South. Economic difficulties in the North? It’s a systemic problem, change the rules. A similar crisis in the South? That’s their own problem, they should have played by the rules. Don’t you feel betrayed by this colossal edifice of trade and logistics? I do.

Hence, there are two types of countries in G-20. Ones that have to obey the rules, and ones that change them. The core and the periphery. The establishment and everyone else. Now that has to be reconsidered.