G20: Slow progress at Los Cobos

By Pascale Palmer
June 19, 2012

Los Cabos is hot and rammed full of federal police and offshore gunships and the military atop armoured vehicles. Late last night, when the US President touched down in the local airport, the town was awash with sirens and helicopters and outriders.

Small groups of soldiers in desert camouflage are constantly patrolling the beaches outside the media centre, which is based in a holiday hotel. This morning as they trudged through the sand, camera crews - eager to fill their time between news bulletins – stumbled after them filming. As the morning sun began to reach the high 80s, the French TV station Canal+ had a reporter and cameraman in swimming trunks doing a package from the hotel’s infinity pool.

At moments like this G20 feels surreal.

But the most surreal of all is that for the second year in a row the Eurozone crisis is kicking development issues away from the centre of the G20 table. So as Greece struggles to form a coalition government and Angela Merkel reasserts the necessity of austerity measures accompanying the Greek bailout, and as the markets slump, in the words of Channel 4’s Jon Snow, ‘Suddenly the summit is confronted with a one-item agenda – the Euro crisis’.

And so it begins - again.

In 2010 the G20 in Seoul said that "narrowing the development gap and reducing poverty are integral to our broader objectives of achieving strong, sustainable and balanced growth and ensuring a more robust and resilient global economy for all." Pretty encouraging words you would probably agree. And as the present financial crisis – which, lest we forget, started in G20 countries - has been squeezing the life out of poor countries, this kind of commitment from world leaders was a welcome statement of intent.

But since then the G20 has focused too heavily on large-scale infrastructure, the promotion of public-private partnerships and very little on safeguards or assessments, instead of ensuring its action plan for development has direct benefits for poor small-scale businesses in developing countries, and includes improvements in the quality of the informal job sector where poor people tend to be more economically active.

There also needs to be movement in tackling food insecurity by prioritising investment in sustainable, small-scale food production, the scaling up of strategic food reserves for times of emergency, abolishing biofuel subsidies, improving the regulation of land deals, and addressing food price volatility by regulating financial markets.

I just listened to the UK Prime Minister address the B20 in Los Cabos - a group of business leaders who have started a forum on business issues in the run-up to the G20 heads of states summits. He talked about the Eurozone being the biggest threat to the world economy, the need to curb and reverse the current trend towards protectionism, the need for the business community to campaign ("like NGOs and charities campaign on development issues") on trade and openness. He crescendoed to this call for action by the audience which, he said, would "secure our prosperity now and for generations to come."

But wasn’t it the headlong, reckless pursuit of ‘prosperity’ that got us into this mess? Don’t we urgently need to outline what ‘prosperity’ means? It certainly must not and cannot mean economic growth at any cost. It cannot mean the continuation of this patching up of a system whose centre has proven it cannot hold, and whose structures advance the richest and weigh heavy on the poorest. Prosperity has to include the right of every human being to flourish to the farthest reaches of their potential, it has to incorporate the concept of the common good, the freedom to thrive.

So while the heads of states roll into the conference centre in Los Cabos today to talk Eurozone, even having a moment to refer to the growing tension over the Falklands, and when significant members of the Group are facing the fight for re-election, they must all be reminded that when these issues have been resolved, and while they are being resolved, and whether they are or are not still in power in their home nations, the lives of families living in the poorest circumstances are continuing to be affected negatively by that same economic crisis, by global markets that do little to shore up small-scale and informal economic actors, by food shortages and fluctuating food prices, by a lack of financial transparency and the widespread use of tax havens, by climate change and the need for funds to help adapt to a changing environment and for development in general.

The G20 has promised to work on all these issues. But as Dirk te Velde of the Overseas Development Institute told me just before the summit, ‘It is painfully slow.’

Well I would suggest world leaders have an economic, political and moral duty to pull their collective finger out before this G20 once again fails to deliver meaningful progress for the poorest people.


(c) Pascale Palmer is Senior Press Officer (Policy & Campaigns) for the official Catholic aid agency CAFOD - www.cafod.org.uk

Ekklesia is carrying regular on-the-spot updates from CAFOD during the course of the G20 Summit.

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