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(en) Australia, Melbourne, A Space Outside* #1 - why the G20 is bad news for developing states

Date Mon, 09 Oct 2006 08:51:02 +0200

What can we do? We can re-invent civil disobedience in a million different
ways. In other words, we can come up with a million ways of becoming a
collective pain in the ass. --- Arundhati Roy
Making an argument about the illegitimacy of the G8 has never been hard
when the leaders of the world's eight most economically and militarily
powerful states get together behind closed doors to decide how the
world's going to be run for the next year, it's fairly easy to point to
the problems. Things get a little trickier with the G20, because it's not
as easily written off as a meeting of the Global North elite. Included in
the membership are a number of countries whose populations, for the
most part, exist with high levels of poverty,
low standards of living and low quality of
life indicators. India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia,
Brazil ­ these are not countries with overly
affluent populations. (By way of a quick
comparison, India's per capita gross na-
tional income is $720, compared to $43,700
for the US).
The expanded membership of the G20 in
comparison to the G8 has meant that the
G20 has tended to be portrayed as more
inclusive and democratic. There's an argu-
ment ­ one which the G20 encourages
in its own rhetoric ­ that the institution
represents a forum for countries normally
left out of the G8 summit scene to push
the interests of the world's poor and dis-
enfranchised, and secure a better deal for
developing states. It has been described
as a space for the South to press its issues
against the North. This sort of idea tends
to underpin mainstream civil society cam-
paigns like Make Poverty History, which
envisages the G20 as a possible future
replacement for the G8, and views this
year's November meeting as an historic
opportunity for major steps forward in
the alleviation of poverty and global in-
equality. On this reading, the summit is an
ultimately well-intentioned meet-and-greet
­ a chance for the North and South to get
better acquainted, and bring prosperity to
all through free trade, growth and good
financial planning. Bollocks.
Understanding why the G20 is damaging for
developing and least developed states re-
quires understanding something of where
the institution came from. The G20 was
created in 1999 when the members of the
G7 (the G8 sans Russia), extended invita-
tions to the IMF, World Bank, EU and
twelve other countries described as being
"systemically important", to join them in
creating a new international body. Officially
created as a deliberative, not decisional
body, the G20's mandate is to encourage
"the formation of consensus" amongst its
The G20 Accord spells out the body's
global economic vision. It reads like the
script of a G8 fat cat's wet dream: Free
movement of capital; deregulation; "flex-
ible" market conditions for labour; priva-
tisation; private property and Intellectual
Property rights; a climate favorable to
Foreign Direct Investment; and global
trade liberalisation through the WTO and
bilateral free trade agreements.
Through securing consensus around the
agenda set out in the Accord, the G20
serves to legitimise the initiatives and
decisions of the G8. And to this extent, it
is doing the job for which it was created.
The G20, while still somewhat obscured
in the shadow of the G8, is evolving into a
potentially critical linchpin in the structures
of global governance As institutions like
the G8, IMF, World Bank and WTO suf-
fer a monumental crisis of legitimacy (an
achievement for which we may like to claim
a little credit), bodies like the G20 will in-
creasingly be required to validate their deci-
sions and initiatives, and provide an illusion
of democratic participation and inclusivity
while the system keeps on with the same
old, same old.
The process through which consensus is
achieved in international institutions of
is highly suspect. A significant amount of
research into the use of consensus building
in the WTO has shown that the process is
overwhelmingly used to secure and advance
the interests of the wealthiest and most
powerful Global North states. It doesn't
mean "let's all work together to find a mu-
tually-beneficial approach", so much as "we
have the money and the trade deals and the
guns so if you want us to buy your ex-
ports and arm your military and set up our
corporations in your country it's probably
a good idea for you to agree with us". The
fact that Global South countries in the G20
have even less of an institutionalised role
than they do in the IMF or World Bank,
means that the forum is even more suited
to the rich states' well-rehearsed tactics of
bullying and coercion.
At the end of the day, it's Imperialism in
shinier packaging. And it's the populations
of the developing and least developed
countries getting screwed once again. But
now colonialism comes complete with
flowcharts and handshakes. Given that
colonies and Empires are officially frowned
upon these days, the leaders of the worlds
richest and most powerful states need to
hide their imperial impulses behind the
veneer of democracy, and the rhetoric of
respect for the sovereign equality of states.
And increasingly, the colonialism of the
North needs the complicity of the South's
There's a big difference between the elites
of countries like India, Brazil and South
Africa, and the populations of the Global
South who bear the brunt of capitalism's
devastation. The sell-out of the govern-
ments of India and Brazil in recent WTO
negotiations made this very clear. The two
states had been leaders in a major bloc
formed by developing and least developed
states at the 2003 WTO summit in Cancun.
When the group of states refused to play
ball with the US and EU, the trade nego-
tiations collapsed spectacularly, threaten-
ing the viability of Doha Round and even
the WTO itself. The ensuing melee made
starkly visible the dynamics of exploitation
and inequality which characterise relation-
ships between the states of the North and
those of the South. But one year later and
the strength of the group was effectively
undermined when the EU and US co-opt-
ed the Indian and Brazilian governments
as "representatives" of the South, and full
negotiating partners in the notorious July
Framework Agreement. Latching on to an
opportunity to further their own interests,
the two states willingly sold out the inter-
ests of impoverished nations and their own
The formation of the developing country
bloc at Cancun raised hopes that a revival
of Southern state solidarity could challenge
the dominance of the North. But India
and Brazil's cooptation and sell-out made
it clear that the populations of develop-
ing and least developed states stand to
gain nothing from the inclusion of Global
South governments in institutions like the
WTO, or the G20. Governments make
poor choices for allies, no matter what.
When the WTO met last December in
Hong Kong, social movements, Global
South activists and civil society groups
from across Asia mobilised in opposition.
In the months leading up to the summit,
they met in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to organ-
ise their resistance and declare their com-
plete opposition to the existence of the
WTO. Declaring that they had "nothing to
gain and everything to lose", they called for
a mass campaign to derail the ministerial.
And in the last few months, Global South
movements have mobilised again, this time
in opposition to the recent World Bank and
IMF meetings held in Singapore in Septem-
ber. A boycott of the meetings by NGOs
attracted an unprecedented level of sup-
port, mobilising even moderate organisa-
tions to call for a complete rejection of the
talks. These mobilisations point to a strong,
radicalised current in the Global South,
and a recognition that the institutions of
neoliberalism are fundamentally illegiti-
mate, doing nothing but reinforcing the
structures of global poverty and inequality
which capitalism feeds off.
Time and time again, what gets left out
of the discourse on trade, poverty and
development are the voices of the people
directly affected by the decisions of these
institutions. The governments of the
G20 countries are busy schmoozing each
other to secure trade deals and market
access. The IMF/ World Bank fat cats are
schmoozing everyone to make sure the
deals get done and the debt keep rising.
And they're all talking about growth and
progress and profits and ending poverty
and bringing Coke to the masses.
But if you can cut through all that crap, the
fact of the matter is that in the midst of
this neoliberal love-in, social movements,
activists and civil society groups in the
Global South are clearly and determinedly
articulating their opposition to the agenda
of the elites who would claim to be operat-
ing in their interests.
The G20 and its proponents might well
argue that the institution offers an unprec-
edented chance for the countries of the
South to press their interests against the
North. They can argue that it represents
a move towards a more inclusive, repre-
sentative, democratic system of global
governance. Campaigns like Make Poverty
History might even agree with them. But
no amount of window dressing is going to
change the fact that at the end of the day
the G20 ­ like the G8, World Bank, IMF
and whole sordid lot of them ­ exists with
the explicit purpose of supporting and
strengthening a global regime that thrives
on the poverty and misery of the majority.
When the Global South movements issued
the Colombo Declaration last year, they
"We declare our solidarity with peoples and com-
munities fighting back against the WTO and
bilateral, regional and multilateral free trade agree-
ments in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and other
parts of the world... We, workers, organised and
unorganised, peasants, dalits, indigenous peoples,
fisherfolks, women, students, migrants and other
marginalised communities of Asia in solidarity
with other peoples will stand at the forefront of the
global struggle."
This November, we have the chance to
draw the battlelines, stand in solidarity with
them, and declare ourselves allies in the
same fight.
*Anti-authoritarian collective.
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