By Pradumna B. Rana
The G-20 summit is a process that is evolving and no one can predict exactly where it will end up. The group was self-appointed as the ``premier forum for international economic cooperation," but there remain important questions related to membership, legitimacy, and agenda that need to be addressed.
In Pittsburgh, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the G-20 would replace the G-8, but this has not happened yet and the G-8 met in Canada in late June back to back with the G-20 summit.
The next G-20 summit is to be held in Seoul in November, for the first time in Asia, and this provides an opportunity for Asia to take action so that it is represented effectively and heard properly in these important meetings.
Important decisions in relation to financial standards and codes are to be taken in Seoul and Asian countries should be there in full force and speak with one voice.
Asia is represented in the G-20 by six countries ― Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Korea, and Japan. In addition to pursuing a bilateral agenda, say with the U.S. or the EU, how can the Asian members of the G-20 jointly synergize and leverage their growing economic and political clout into more effective participation in the G-20? How can Asia collectively strengthen its voice in the G-20?
Asia can strengthen its position in three ways.
First, Asia should realize the centrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Asia's regional architecture, and should lobby to formalize the membership of ASEAN representatives in the G-20.
Under the present G-20 practice of inviting representatives of regional groupings, the ASEAN chair and the ASEAN secretary general participated at the London, Pittsburgh, and Toronto summits.
The ASEAN leaders' statement from the ASEAN Hanoi summit of April 2010 says: ``ASEAN strongly believes that it can contribute to the deliberations of the G-20 through the continued participation of the ASEAN chair and the ASEAN secretary general in the future G-20 summits."
But this is not enough. Strong diplomatic efforts are required by Asian countries to formalize and regularize the participation of ASEAN representatives in future G-20 summits.
Second, Asian countries should organize meetings of the ``expanded" ASEAN+3 prior to the G-20 summits so as to coordinate policies and develop common views.
After the Asian financial crisis, a number of fora for policy coordination were established. These included the Executives' Meeting of East Asian and Pacific Central Bankers and the ASEAN Surveillance Process. Among them, the most comprehensive, and the one with the strongest technical support, is the ASEAN+3 Economic Review and Policy Dialogue (ERPD), which brings together the finance ministers and deputies of 13 countries (ASEAN plus China, Japan, and Korea).
A system to monitor financial sector vulnerabilities and early warning systems of banking and financial crises has also been established. Singapore recently announced it would establish an ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office by May 2011 to support the ASEAN+3 ERPD.
Reflecting their growing economic weight and linkages with other countries in the region, India, Australia and New Zealand should be invited by the ASEAN+3 to join their policy coordination meetings. The deliberations of the ``expanded" ASEAN+3 prior to the G-20 summits would provide a robust agenda for the ASEAN representatives to table at the summits.
Third, Asian countries should coordinate their views with those of developing countries in other regions of the world by joining and supporting the informal Global Governance Group (or the 3G), convened by Singapore under the auspices of the United Nations.
This group currently comprises about 24 small and medium states from around the world (of which six are from Asia ― Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam), which have come together to develop a constructive dialogue on coordination and cooperation between G-20 and non-G-20 members.
The 3G has put forward several important ideas in a U.N. document, such as the proposal that the G-20 should undertake consultations as widely as possible with non-G-20 members before the G-20 summits.
Additionally, the U.N. secretary general should be an active participant in all aspects of the G-20 process. It suggests that the G-20 should take on a ``variable geometry" configuration to allow non-G-20 states to participate in ministerial and other gatherings and other working groups involving senior officials and experts on specialized issues.
Finally, the G-20 should continue the practice of inviting established regional groupings to the summits.
The G-20 has provided a historically unprecedented opportunity for Asian countries to be heard on the reform of international monetary and financial architecture and other issues. The onus is now on the Asian countries to deliver. The lead-up to the forthcoming Seoul summit provides an opportunity for Asia to take action.
Pradumna B. Rana is an associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He was previously a senior director at the Asian Development Bank's Office of Regional Economic Integration. He can be reached at Prana@ntu.edu.sg.