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G8 to become G20 but economic, environmental solutions still fall flat

Prime Minister Harper has just announced that Canada will host the G20 and the G8 summits next year, presumably at or around the same time (June 25 to 27, 2010) in Muskoka, Ontario.

“The G20 process has proven critical to our collective response to the global recession,” said Harper this morning at the G20 in Pittsburgh. “Canada has been a strong participant at these summits because our country brings a strong economic record to the table.”

A second G20 Summit will be held in Seoul, Korea in November 2010, according to Harper’s joint statement with Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

What is at stake in Pittsburgh?
Numerous groups are protesting the Pittsburgh summit on the grounds that the G20 leaders are not doing enough to regulate the global economy in the interests of people and the environment but by reinforcing institutions like the International Monetary Fund with new money and new powers when it is the ideology behind these institutions – free markets, deregulation, privatization – that needs changing.

Public Citizen, for instance, joined over 50 organizations in writing to President Obama in the lead-up to the G20 summit. The clip above from Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch program, explains what’s at stake.

“A first priority is coordinated efforts to put people back to work,” said the joint letter. “Your administration has shown the way with its stimulus and budget plans, with the federal government providing the investment needed to put people back to work, while aiding those displaced by the crisis. Other countries should be urged to do the same. And, given record levels of unemployment, more stimulus is needed. We support your efforts to encourage stimulus spending around the world, and urge you to intensify those efforts.”

A second priority for these groups is for world leaders to agree to regulatory floors as opposed to ceilings, whether in regulating consumer protection, systemic risks, derivatives, hedge funds, shadow markets, accounting practices and more. This means that there are firm ground rules for global finance, investment and insurance versus voluntary systems or best practices where actors regulate themselves.

There is also concern that the IMF continues to support one set of rules in the developing world that restricts their responses to the economic crisis while rich countries pump billions of stimulus dollars into their economies and loosen monetary policy.

Specifically, the letter to Obama urged the following reforms to the IMF: “a guarantee that countries will have flexibility to expand healthcare and education spending, irrespective of budget caps; and a prohibition on financial deregulation as an IMF conditionality or policy recommendation. The Fund must give countries more macroeconomic flexibility in fiscal and monetary policy. We also urge the administration to advocate for expanded debt cancellation, free from harmful conditionalities, for the poorest countries.”

WTO, “protectionism” and Guadalajara summit
Moreover, these groups write that further financial deregulation planned in the ongoing Doha “development” talks at the WTO would be clearly disastrous and that “the leaders of the G-20 countries must agree to review and repair the existing WTO limits on financial service regulation and devise a future WTO negotiating agenda that takes into consideration the harsh lessons of the crisis.

“More broadly,” they write, “care needs to be taken with respect to the specter of ‘protectionism’ being repeatedly raised by world leaders. As you so rightly noted at the Guadalajara North American Leaders Summit, in fact there have not been ‘sweeping steps’ to ‘protectionism.’ However, what is also true is that various interests have labeled an array of legitimate government policies as ‘protectionist’ in an effort to discredit these financial, climate, food and product safety, highway safety, consumer labeling and government procurement initiatives.

“To the extent that world leaders contribute to this distorted notion – and the implication that complying with ‘trade’ rules undermines peoples’ aspirations for economic justice and development, a clean environment and health and safety – public antipathy towards ‘trade’ will only grow.”

This note hits home in Canada, where Prime Minister Harper’s only contribution to these increasingly regular summits is the repetition of anti-“protectionist” rhetoric that does nothing to help develop real solutions to the current economic or environmental crises.

To read the full U.S. letter, click here.

Our work with Common Frontiers
Of course there are other issues, not the least of which is the question of legitimacy of the G20 to handle these questions.

We worked with Common Frontiers to put out a media advisory yesterday on Canadian participation at the G20 counter-summit called People’s Voices. John Foster of Common Frontiers is in Pittsburgh attending the counter-summit, which was organized by Pittsburgh United, a collection U.S. civil society organizations including the Alliance for Responsible Trade/Hemispheric Social Alliance, Center for Latin American Studies, University of Pittsburgh, G6 Billion, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, National Jobs with Justice, Pa. American Friends Service Committee, Pittsburgh UNITED/Northside United, Roots of Promise, Students for Radical Change, United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE).

“The G-20, G-8 and other exclusive self-invited clubs cannot legitimately solve this economic crisis on their own,” said Foster, who participated in a high level UN Conference on the Economic Crisis in New York in June 2009 and Doha in November 2008. “These leaders should be lending their considerable weight to a more democratic United Nations dialogue on reforms, among the G-192. They should not be reinforcing the old international financial and economic architecture – an architecture that continues to favour rich developed countries while doing very little or nothing to help developing countries pull themselves out of poverty.”

To read Brent Patterson’s Campaign Blog entry on the G20’s rejection of the UN economic crisis talks, click here.

Our work on the G8/G20 Summit in Muskoka
The Council of Canadians is also currently part of a People’s Summit organizing committee looking toward action during the G8/G20 summit in Muskoka next June. A workshop at the upcoming AGM in St. John will discuss how chapters across Canada can work in their own communities to raise awareness about where the G8/G20 is failing on economic recovery, environmental protection and real development around the world.

Our work on internal trade policy in Canada
Next month, Council of Canadians Chair Maude Barlow and CUPE Ontario President Sid Ryan will visit several cities in Ontario to talk about how new efforts to eradicate so-called non-tariff barriers to trade through internal trade agreements like TILMA, the newly signed Ontario-Quebec Trade and Cooperation Agreement and new Western Economic Partnership talks with Saskatchewan, as well as through the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, threaten a wide number of policies that have nothing to do with trade.

These policies, which include municipal and provincial rights to spend public money on local economic and environmental priorities or the right of our cities to become environmental leaders by pushing the envelope with strong environmental policy, are under attack as “protectionism” and could soon be outlawed. The trade tour is a chance to educate Canadians about these new threats, to push for more accountability in how the provinces develop or agree to new trade agreements, and to provide communities with the tools to fight for strong environmental, public health and economic development policies without fear that trade agreements will get in the way.

For information on the trade tour, click here. Materials for the tour, including information on the Canada-EU negotiations, will be up online soon.