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  Félix Peña

INTERNATIONAL TRADE RELATIONS NEWSLETTER
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THE EFFICACY OF THE "G's":
Capabilities to be considered for an assessment of the G20 and the BRICS group

by Félix Peña
March 2011

English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza


 

The Group of Twenty (G20) and the BRICS Group are some of the examples of what are currently called the "G". These are informal groups of countries that meet periodically at the highest political level with the aim of addressing relevant issues of the international agenda that are of their interest. They reflect the perception of the insufficiencies of the formal mechanisms to enable the participation of countries in the international system.

Given the relatively recent formation of both groups it would be premature to attempt to assess their effectiveness based on their objectives. For this assessment it would be convenient to take into account the differences between the two initiatives, which were born under similar circumstances but which address different needs. The similar circumstances we refer to are the systematic insufficiencies to ensure effective global governance. The needs that drive the G20 are related with the overcoming of a situation of systemic crisis and with the promotion of institutional reforms that lead to an effective multi-lateralism, particularly in world trade and finance. The BRICS group, in turn, endeavors to increase the capability for a relevant role of its member countries in the construction of a new world order and to exert its influence within the G20.

Beyond the differences existing between both groups, there are three capabilities that should be taken into account in order to appraise their efficacy in view of their desired objectives. These are the ability: to exert a real influence in the construction of a new international architecture that enables to achieve reasonable levels of global governance; to articulate effective agreements between the member countries on relevant issues of the international agenda; and to express the points of view and interests of the non-participating countries, especially those of the region that one or more of the member countries aspire to represent.


Today, the informal groups of countries -the "G"s- have gained a growing relevance in the international scenario. They constitute different modalities of groupings of countries with a low degree of formalization that meet periodically at the highest political level with the objective of addressing relevant issues of the international agenda that they consider of their interest.

They reflect the perception of a relative insufficiency in the formal mechanisms for the participation of countries in the international system (see our article on "Participation in the international system", published in Revista Criterio, 1561-62, of December 1968, on http://www.felixpena.com.ar/. They aspire to have an effect on the reformulation of the existing mechanisms or in the eventual creation of new international organizations.

The Group of Twenty (G20) and the now called BRICS group are some of the main examples. Their aims and scope are indeed different, but each one in its own way reflects the new realities in the distribution of world power. None has fully proven its effectiveness yet, which would be measured by the capacity to adopt decisions that have a bearing on relevant issues of global governance. Thus many questions remain concerning the role that they can really play, either to control the most adverse effects of the economic and financial crisis of the last three years or to influence the design of a new architecture of the international system.

One group, the G20, reflects the meeting of two worlds: that of the countries that perceive themselves as "mature" protagonists in the international system (those of the G8) and that of the countries perceived as "emerging" or , in some cases, "re-emerging" (China and India). Argentina is a full member of this group. (On the G20 see http://www.g20.org/, the November 2008 issue of this Newsletter on http://www.felixpena.com.ar/ and the February 2009 edition as well, on http://www.felixpena.com.ar/).

The other, the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India and China, to which South Africa was recently invited), gathers countries that aspire to have a greater protagonism in the world scene. They consider that they have sufficient current or potential power to be acknowledged as relevant actors at a world level. And in some cases (for example Brazil and South Africa) that they could additionally reflect the interests of other countries of the regional spaces to which they belong. That is, they believe to have the capacity to lead their respective geographic regions, even when the eventual leadership is not necessarily acknowledged by all the other countries belonging to it. Argentina has not been invited to become a member of this group. (On the BRICS group refer to the January 2011 issue of this Newsletter on http://www.felixpena.com.ar/).

These groups of countries that meet periodically at the level of Heads of State (and/or Government according to the constitutional disposition of each country) are not a new occurrence in international diplomacy. The so-called G7 -that became the G8, after the addition of Russia- has played a significant role by gathering the main developed countries in periodical Summits since 1975. Even when it is still in existence and it continues to meet as such, its relative insufficiency to face the global financial and economic crisis became evident at the end of 2008. Thereof, the G20 was summoned as the appropriate ambit for summits at the highest political level. It had existed since 1999 but until then it had only functioned at the level of the financial authorities of a group of countries, including those of the G7. (See http://www.g20.org/index.aspx).

The diplomacy of summits as meetings at the highest political level of the participating countries has many precedents and multiple modalities. Among others, at the bilateral level, especially between neighbor countries, currently very common and which normally has a set periodicity -for example, semiannual, annual or bi-yearly-. There are also those meetings that take place within the ambit of international organizations (e.g. the summits on climate change), or of institutionalized integration processes (e.g. within the ambit of the European Union or Mercosur). Others may reflect inter-regional spaces and have the objective of generating the necessary political drive to promote different types and degrees of economic cooperation. The EU- LAC summits and the Asia and Pacific ones are some examples of this. In these cases, summits symbolize the existence of a differentiated space that has a certain degree of identity within the global international scenario. They may also have a regional scope, such as the case of the Rio Group with the participation of Latin American countries.

In the dynamics of summits, the prestige factor may play a key role for the government of the home country. In such cases the internal policy impacts of each meeting acquires a particular relevance and may have repercussions on a growing trend that could be called "media diplomacy", where the effects of the corresponding summit are mainly measured by their impact on the local media and not only on the international one.

Comparing the two groups involved in this analysis, due to their current and potential relevance, we find some common elements and some differences.

Some of the common elements are:

  • they are not occasional events, and on the contrary they aspire to have a continued presence for a period of time that may even be of long duration;

  • summits have a predefined frequency ;

  • they have member countries; however they do not constitute an international organization. As a result they lack a constituent pact -resulting from a multilateral international legal instrument originating them- neither do they have legal status nor permanent agencies;

  • their members are countries that consider to have certain common interests, at least in relation to the objectives of the group;

  • only the countries invited may become members of the group and, in general, there are "waiting lists" formed by countries that aspire to be summoned and who believe to have the necessary conditions to form part of it;

  • the presence of non-member countries and of specifically selected guest international organizations is not excluded from their meetings;

  • their respective periodical summits are prepared by the member countries under the coordination of the country that will be the seat of the meeting, often with the participation of high ranking officers especially selected by each member country -for example the so-called "sherpa" in the precedent of the G7 and in the current G20- and also by minister meetings that have their own periodicity and usually take place prior to each summit;

  • in general, their results are communicated by a final declaration or joint communiqué that reflects -sometimes in vague terms- the actions and policies that the group has agreed to promote;

  • they do not generate international legal rules, notwithstanding they could seek to influence the law-making process of other formal mechanisms for international cooperation and of the existing international organizations.

As for the differences, the following could be considered the most relevant:

  • the objectives sought and the criteria to select invitee countries are different in their scope even when, in both cases, they are linked with relevant issues of global governance;

  • the modalities of the process of preparation and follow-up of the respective summits doesn't necessarily follow any given model;

  • the unbalanced configuration of relative power amongst the participating countries, and

  • the degree of homogeneity in their respective political and economic interests, which may even have a very limited scope.

Given the relative recent character of the two groups being considered -the G20 in its newest version and the BRICS- it would be premature to attempt to assess their efficacy in terms of their objectives. However, for such appraisal it would be advisable to take into consideration the differences between the two initiatives, born under similar circumstances but which answer to different needs.

The similar circumstances under which both initiatives were launched are those originated by the systemic insufficiencies to ensure effective global governance. These are closely related with the profound changes in the distribution of world power, which became more evident still during the recent global financial crisis with its striking economic impacts and array of political repercussions.

The needs that drive the G20 are related with overcoming a situation of systemic crisis and encouraging institutional reforms that lead to an effective multilateralism, particularly in world trade and finance. In turn, the BRICS group strives to increase the capacity of its member countries to have a relevant protagonism in the construction of a new world order and to exert their influence within the G20. However, in none of the two cases these needs seem to be perceived in the same manner by the different countries that form part of each group.

Beyond the existing differences between the two groups, there are three capabilities that should be taken into account to assess their efficacy in terms of their desired objectives. These are:

  • to exert a real influence in the design of a new architecture for the international system that enables to achieve reasonable levels of a legitimate and effective global governance;

  • to articulate strong agreements between the member countries that penetrate reality on relevant issues of the international agenda, and

  • to reflect the points of view and interests of non-participating countries, particularly of those belonging to the regions that one or more of the member countries eventually aspire to represent.

After the recent Ministers Meeting in Paris, there are still many doubts on the potential effectiveness of the G20 and of its representativeness (check its results on http://www.g20.org/). The next Summit, to be held under the presidency of France, will provide a new opportunity to assess its capacity to influence international reality. On this regard, the results that are achieved in the Doha Round negotiations will be an important test if we consider the repeated pronouncements that on this issue have been made since the first Summit took place at the end of 2008. In turn, the BRICS group will have in its upcoming Summit, to be held in Beijing next April, an opportunity to manifest its relevance as a new and active protagonist in the world scenario.


Recommended Reading:


  • Alexandroff, Alan S. (editor), "Can the World be Governed? Possibilities for Effective Multilateralism", CIGI - Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Waterloo, Ontario 2008.
  • Barral, Welber, "Dumping y comercio internacional", Facultad de Derecho de la UBA - La Ley, Buenos Aires 2010.
  • Breslin, Shaun, "The Soft Notion of China's Soft Power", Chatham House, Asia Programme Paper: ASP PP 2011/03, London, February 2011, on http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/.
  • Gereffi, Gary; Fernandez-Stark, Karina, "The Offshore Services Value Chain. Developing Countries and the Crisis", Policy Research Working Paper 5262 - The World Bank Development Research Group - Trade and Integration Team, Washington, April 2010, on http://papers.ssrn.com/.
  • Gereffi, Gary; Frederick, Stacey, "The Global Apparel Value Chain, Trade and the Crisis. Challenges and Opportunities for Developing Countries", Policy Research Working Paper 5281 - The World Bank Development Research Group - Trade and Integration Team, Washington, April 2010, on http://papers.ssrn.com/.
  • Goldstein, Fabiana; Sacerdote, Adriana; Conde, Tristán; Juárez, Héctor Hugo, "El Código Aduanero del Mercosur desde la óptica de sus redactores nacionales", in the website "Aduana News", on http://www.aduananews.com.ar/. Also in the website "Mercosur ABC", on http://www.mercosurabc.com.ar/.
  • Kim, Soo Yeon, "Power and the Governance of Global Trade. From the GATT to the WTO", Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London 2010.
  • Llach, Juan, "Los desafíos productivos de la Argentina: ¿cuál es y cuál debería ser nuestro lugar en el nuevo mundo", Boletín Informativo Techint, N° 333, Buenos Aires, September-December 2010, page 55 onwards, on http://www.boletintechint.com/.
  • Losada, Leandro, "Esplendores del Centenario. Relatos de la elite argentina desde Europa y Estados Unidos", Fondo de Cultura Económica, Buenos Aires 2010.
  • MAIZAR, "Serie de Estudios Sectoriales: Caso del maíz", Programa de Inserción Agrícola, Fundación INAI - Asociación Maíz y Sorgo Argentino (MAIZAR), Buenos Aires, November 2010, on http://www.inai.org.ar/.
  • Morris, Ian, "Why the West Rules - For Now. The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future", Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York 2010.
  • Rosales, Osvaldo, "China y América Latina: impactos, desafíos y opciones estratégicas", Boletín Informativo Techint, N° 333, Buenos Aires, Septiembre-Diciembre 2010, page 21 onwards, on http://www.boletintechint.com/.
  • Ugland, Trygve, "Jean Monnet and Canada. Early Travels and the Idea of European Unity", University of Toronto Press, Toronto-Buffalo-London 2011.
  • WTO, "WTO Public Forum 2010. The Forces Shaping World Trade", Geneva 2011, on http://www.wto.org/.


Félix Peña Director of the Institute of International Trade at the ICBC Foundation. Director of the Masters Degree in International Trade Relations at Tres de Febrero National University (UNTREF). Member of the Executive Committee of the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI). Member of the Evian Group Brains Trust. More information.

http://www.felixpena.com.ar | info@felixpena.com.ar


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