Top G20 Seoul summit organizer
By Cho Jin-seo
Sakong Il, the chairman of the Presidential Committee for the G20 Summit, said Tuesday that the meeting of the world's 20 largest economies needs to become a permanent institution with a fixed secretariat office, so that it can replace at least some of the duties undertaken by the G8 as a global decision-making body.
The chairman's remark echoes escalating calls for wider and more consistent international cooperation, amid rising tension about protectionism among the world's bigger economies, such as China, Japan and the United States.
It is also in line with the wish of emerging economies, including Korea, to get better representation in the global political and economic decision-making process, which has largely been dominated by Europe and North America.
The idea of having a G20 secretariat was first raised by French President Nicholas Sarkozy in August, and formal discussions are to follow from November, Sakong said.
“We welcome President Sarkozy's proposal to establish a G20 secretariat,” Sakong said in an opening speech at a symposium in Seoul, which was jointly held by the Korea Development Institute and the Brookings Institution from the United States. “When the Seoul Summit is held successfully, then official discussions will begin on the institutionalization of the G20.”
The G20 leaders have met twice a year since the outbreak of the global financial crisis in 2008. Four cities have hosted the summits and officials of the host country played the role of mediator on various issues regarding an economic recovery and financial regulation reform.
There is no mandate on how long the 20 nations continue to hold the presidential meeting. It has only been decided that there will be only one summit next year in France and only one in Mexico in 2012.
Sarkozy rationalized that the G20 needs to create a secretariat, so it can oversee the implementation of its decisions effectively.
The Korean government has set up its own committee for November's Seoul Summit, where the G20 is to finalize most of the remaining financial reform issues after two years of tough negotiations. But the committee is in the form of a taskforce with people called up from various government departments, not a fixed institution. Most committee staff members believe they will have to find a new job after November.
Some countries, especially members of the G8, are known to be uncomfortable with the idea of expanding the G20. France, too, though it believes the G20 needs to have a home, has a different idea from Korea on the role of the secretariat.
While Korea wants to grow as the headquarters for global economic policy cooperation, France wants it to have a more general role in areas such as climate change and development.
Jacques Mistral, head of Economic Studies at the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales, said that the G20 should not undermine the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by trying to take over some of its duties.
“The G20 should not become an unnecessary addition to existing international institutions, given that the IMF already has a clear role as the global financial coordinator,” Mistral told The Korea Times on Monday during his visit to Seoul. He is France's advisor on G20 issues. The IMF is currently chaired by a Frenchman. “But if the G20 wants to expand in other areas such as climate control, then that is another matter,” he said.
Mistral also said that the discussion to institutionalize could get even more complicated, because the United States doesn't want to expand the G20's reach beyond economic issues, contrary to France's position.
“President Obama had said that it's an economic forum. He made a clear definition,” Mistral said, adding that the United States does not see the G20 completely replacing the G8 in political and especially military issues.