Marketplace Middle East - Blog
Round three of the G-20
It is not easy to round up 20 leaders, have them more or less sing from the same hymn sheet and finally agree to a communiqué that was long on bold headlines but fell short in the way concrete measures.

That was the outcome of round two of the G-20 meeting in London. This, indeed, is the worst downturn witnessed in seven decades, so it may be worth viewing the road to recovery as a 15 round boxing championship.

Behind the scenes, we at CNN had a healthy debate on what the actual package was worth -- was it $750 billion or $0.5 trillion for the International Monetary Fund. Wait a second, how do we get to $1.1 trillion? In actual fact, $250 billion of that total is being set aside for trade credits, with another $100 billion for developing countries. However, the devil is in the detail. Who will have access to those funds? Moreover, who will be putting up the fresh capital to make that happen?

These are key questions that were not addressed in London, but they are waiting for round three in Washington, at the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank to go to the next level.

Since the financial community in general (including financial journalists) is so conditioned by the former G7 process, very few tuned into the emerging voices of the 21st Century economy, notably China, Saudi Arabia and Russia –- the new surplus countries. Not one of them offered fresh funds on the new equation of $1.1 trillion.

During the deliberations, I was on the phone with a Saudi banker who was waiting for a call from the London delegation to see what may be put on the table. I was told the Kingdom was not asked to offer more funds to the big number.

Now, there are many interpretations along that front. First and foremost, China and Saudi Arabia probably feel they have offered more than their fair share; after all they are major buyers and holders of U.S. Treasury bonds. Like the Japanese, who put up $100 billion in loans to the IMF, Beijing and Riyadh could have done the same, but it seems quite clear after the dust has settled that they were not convinced to do so.

Which leaves us where in the process? Just prior to the G-20 meeting, I interviewed the First Deputy Managing Director of the IMF, John Lipsky, in Vienna. While addressing the OPEC seminar and acknowledging the vast stimulus provided by $45 dollar oil, he expressed concern that there may be stimulus fatigue in 2010. Collectively, G-20 countries have spent about 1.8 percent of their GDP to free up capital in an attempt to put air back into the economic balloon. That is a record according to Lipsky.

What is not clear from the vague language of the final communiqué in London is what happens next year. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy made it clear they were not offering more money just yet and they wanted to move to towards a policy agreement for global financial regulation. All agreed that better regulation is needed; how to get there was not defined. So, that is big issue number two for third round of talks in Washington.

If there is a key issue number three for round three, it has to be the fate of the Doha Development Round. While in Brussels to drum up support for his efforts, WTO Director General Pascal Lamy talked of the need to ward off protectionist measures within the current rules of the Geneva-based organization and offer a bit of "blue sky" to developing countries that cannot simply open their financial taps and spend a record amount of money.

In the communiqué there was language to cover off the financial markets (investors get extremely nervous at the thought of trade barriers), but leaders were short of concrete answers or a firm timeline to get the Doha Round done and dusted. What was agreed to, cleverly inserted by Lamy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, was a "name and shame" game. The WTO will identify those who are erecting barriers to free trade and they will be asked politely to watch their step. Lamy will have a great deal of work to do since the World Bank identified 17 of the G-20 as being overly aggressive with their trade claims within the current WTO framework.

There are, of course, some very worrying hurdles to cross. The Paris-based OECD is projecting that the industrialized countries will decline by a record 4.3 percent. The WTO says trade is already collapsing with a record decline of nine percent projected.

These are the numbers that make up the real story that could be outshone by the glare of photo-ops, a new U.S. president and one huge headline number of $1 trillion, but this fight against a global recession will only get more challenging in the later rounds.

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John Defterios’ blog accompanies the weekly business program, Marketplace Middle East (MME) that is dedicated to the latest financial news from the Middle East. As MME anchor, John Defterios talks to the people in the know, finding out their opinions on the big business moves in the region, he provides his views via this weekly blog. We hope you will join the discussion around the issues raised.
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