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A Business Boost for Brisbane's Summit from the B20's Strong Sydney Start

Dr. John Kirton, Co-Director, G20 Research Group, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto;
Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China
Co-editor, G20 Australia Summit: Brisbane (forthcoming from Newsdesk Media)
July 16, 2014

Private sector–led growth, the central goal of the 2014 G20 summit in Brisbane in November, depends critically on the contribution of business, made in many ways. It got off to a good start at the opening of the annual Business Twenty (B20) summit in Sydney, Australia, on Wednesday, July 16.

The B20, the official G20 engagement group of business leaders from all G20 members, was born at the fourth G20 summit, held in Toronto, Canada, in June 2010. To advise the G20 leaders preparing for their ninth G20 summit in 2014, the B20 has assembled 400 delegates for its business summit this year. Richard Goyder of Wesfarmers, as chair, opened by emphasizing the B20's central priority of generating jobs, especially for youth, which is a central priority for almost all G20 participants at Brisbane, including Spain —where half the youth are currently unemployed.

To deliver real results, the Australian B20 leadership has concentrated its focus on four priorities: trade, with a task force led by Andrew Mackenzie of BHP Billiton and Harold McGraw III of McGraw Hill Financial; financing growth led by Michael Smith of ANZ Banking Group; infrastructure and investment, led by David Thodey of Telstra Corporation Ltd., with Hans-Paul Bürkner of BCG and Marcus Wallenburg of SEB; and human capital, led by Steve Sargent of GE Mining.

A second institutional innovation is the B20's strong interaction with the G20's other official engagement groups — the Labour 20, led by Sharran Burrow; the Youth 20 led by Holly Ransom, the Think 20 led by Mike Callaghan, and the Civil 20 led by Tim Costello. All can join the common cause of pressing G20 leaders to generate more good jobs for youth, not only by acting within a supportive policy environment to hire more themselves and above all encourage young people to create their own jobs through new start-ups that promise to grow fast.

A third institutional innovation is to shrink the number of recommendations from the 120 or so presented last year to many fewer now. Moreover, these recommendations will be action-oriented, able politically and practically to be adopted and acted on right away, in key areas such as infrastructure.

The content of the recommendations will be come clear as B20 delegates debate, adjust and agree on them in the coming days. But already some promising directions have taken shape. On infrastructure, the B20's focus is not on creating new money to finance it but on unleashing the massive amounts already there, on business balance sheets, in pension funds, other institutional investors and the like. On human capital, the emphasis is on having public sector institutions educate the young with the talents and skills that will be demanded in a rapidly changing world.

With its sharp focus, the B20 will not advise G20 leaders on all subjects the latter will take up, and where business has a vital stake. International taxation and probably climate change are cases in point.

Perhaps more important are significant dimensions of the four priorities the B20 has selected, and on which its views have yet to be heard. One is the role of women in the workplace, which Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has included as one element of the "third arrow" of his economic reforms at home. Another is creating an enabling environment for young entrepreneurs, so their start-ups will become high-growth small and medium-sized enterprises that will begin the Apples of the future, the way the innovative entrepreneurship of the young Steve Jobs did.

So many will be watching to see if B20 delegates over the next two days will build such contributions into the firm foundation the B20 summit has set at its start. And the will continue to watch as other engagement groups reinforce and extend the messages, notably at the Young Entrepreneurs Summit, which starts in Sydney on July 19, immediately after the B20 summit ends.

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