Making multilateral institutions work
G20 Summit

Making multilateral institutions work

In 1944, seeking to end the threat posed by the ‘inward-looking nationalism’ that blighted the first half of the 20th century, the powers that be created the United Nations and the Bretton Woods Institutions, establishing a value system for my generation and those to come that led national governments to seek global solutions to global problems.

Now, 74 years later, as we approach this year’s G20 summit, we cannot ignore the reality that, as disruptive new technologies pose new challenges for workforce access, the ensuing rising inequality invites proponents of inward-looking nationalism to seek a comeback.

This comeback can be seen when too many governments point to foreign trade on the one hand and the migration of people on the other as prime causes of their country’s problems, while blaming globalisation as an infringement on their sovereignty.

The rise of counterproductive nationalism is thus a major issue the G20 cannot avoid. First, it requires recognising that freer trade is not the problem and that the World Trade Organization must not become a sacrificial lamb. A rules-based trading system is essential if global supply chains are to create jobs, which becomes an even greater imperative as the digital economy increasingly replaces today with tomorrow.

Second, it means acknowledging that migration is as old as humanity, and people move because they want to improve their lives.

Countries with ageing populations, like several G20 members, need immigrants. However, for countries that are reluctant to open their doors, the only answer that will work is to focus less on deterrents and more on giving the world’s beleaguered people fewer reasons to leave home.

Continuity of effort

It is here that the Buenos Aires Summit must pick up on last year’s Hamburg Summit call for a compact with Africa, because continuity of effort is essential if the G20 is to live up to expectations. The African continent, with the youngest population in the world, produces 10 million entrants to its workforce every year, yet creates only three million new jobs – or seven million new unemployed young people every 12 months, year after year. It is a gap that heralds a future of poverty and migration that will reverberate from Africa throughout the rest of the world.

The math is undeniable, as is the need for gender equality, true universal education and a functioning infrastructure within a continental market.

Either the G20 works with Africa as it pursues these goals and the continent becomes a growth engine for tomorrow, or not only will we bear the consequences, but so will our children and grandchildren.

As we come to grips with globalisation, we also need to consider the fate of the world’s great multilateral institutions.

The G20 was created to make globalisation work for all. The world’s great multilateral institutions were designed for the same purpose and, as the G20 evolves, one of its primary responsibilities must be to ensure their success. Yet this is not easily achieved, because synchronised global action by countries is dedicated to their own national interest. Given the opportunity, however, multilateral institutions can help pave the way.

This was true a decade ago, and it is truer today, in a world where there is no longer only one economic superpower, but three or four giant economies and a host of wealthy countries at the table – a table where the debate can no longer be limited to ‘what should we do’ but rather ‘how will we get it done’.

Answering this question requires a level of focus that dedicated multilateral institutions are best capable of delivering, but only if they are properly and predictably funded, which is not now the case.

Knock-on effect of nationalism

For instance, many have predicted that one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century will be the spread of infectious diseases. Given that, how can we explain the underfunding of the World Health Organization? We cannot, but we can point to the navel-gazing nationalism that is the unfortunate stuff of so many headlines today.

It is to this that the G20 must respond, for one of the biggest hurdles it faces is those who, in the name of national sovereignty, preach globalisation as the enemy.

They are wrong.

Globalisation is not a choice. It is a fact of life.

beyond state Lines

From climate change to the agony of the oceans, from the menace of food insecurity to the forced migration of people, from cyclical financial crises to the changing nature of work, the most pressing realities facing the world are ones that no national boundaries can withstand. All have massive economic and social consequences that require responses well beyond what even the most powerful governments can provide alone, and for which few are prepared.

In summary, we all believe in the sovereignty of our own country, but we also know that if that is to be preserved it will only be if countries work together in the global interest. The Buenos Aires Summit is an essential step in that direction.