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Steady As She Goes:
G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors in July 2020

John Kirton, G20 Research Group
July 18, 2020

Instead of gathering for their long-scheduled two-day meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, G20 finance ministers and central bank governors met virtually on July 18, 2020. They issued a communiqué for the fourth time this year. Its five pages were followed by a lengthy annex, titled the "First G20 Action Plan Progress Report." Throughout, both documents highlighted the single message of "steady as she goes." The supplementary message was "wait until we meet again" in the autumn for anything really new.

The communiqué itself contains 33 precise, future-oriented politically obligatory commitments. Most take the form of "we will continue," "we reiterate," "we reaffirm," "we will consider," "we remain determined" and "we look forward to continuing." Many were actually or almost identical to those the ministers and governors had made earlier in the year. Very few promised to do more than before.

The 33 commitments are more than the ministers and governors issued at each of their meetings since in July 2016, save for their long scheduled one on February 23 in Riyadh and on April 15 in virtual form. With these two exceptions, the previous record came from their 30 commitments at Fukuoka, Japan, in June 2019. July 2020's 33 commitments are far more than the six on March 6, four on March 23 and six on March 30. The surge reflects the mandate from their leaders' extraordinary summit on March 26 to implement the 47 commitments the leaders had made then.

It also reflects the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their decisional performance at their regularly scheduled meetings in 2020. On February 23 they produced 42 commitments in their communiqué (including one focused on gender equality), and several more in the "Annex I: Issues for Further Actions." On April 15, in response to their leaders' instructions just over two weeks earlier, they produced a communiqué with 19 commitments. It came with the mandated "Annex I: G20 Action Plan — Supporting the Global Economy through the COVID-19 Pandemic," which contained 42 commitments more.

The 33 commitments cover 11 subjects (or 12 if development is again divided into its classic development and related debt-relief parts). This breadth shows the ministers and governors substituting for their leaders, who have failed to meet in the almost four months since March 26, even as the death and disease from COVID-19 have spread and soared and the global economy has plunged.

The commitments are led by those on financial regulation with seven, followed by health and terrorism with six each and development (including debt) with four. Far behind come tax, reform of international financial institutions and infrastructure with two each, and macroeconomic policy, international cooperation trade and social policy with one each. Many of the heath commitments immediately include other economic goals in an integrated, and perhaps synergistic set. But, given the "impact of the COVID-19 pandemic" noted in the opening sentence of the communiqué, health has come first.

Also noteworthy is a heavy emphasis on terrorism, with three times as many commitments as ever before (save for those from the meeting held in Ottawa, Canada, a few months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States). Here the commitments include anti-money laundering (often categorized under crime and corruption), counterterrorist finance and proliferation finance in a single set. This attention to terrorism shows that at this ministerial level, the G20 has become a global security governor in a robust way.

Several silences stand out, however. Unlike at some past meetings, no commitments focus on climate change, energy or digitalization. There were four references in the communiqué to the natural environment. With only one gender-related reference, the question of "where are the women" remains in the commitments made the finance ministers and central bank governors.

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G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Commitments 2016–020

Issue area Total Chengdu
July 2016
Baden Baden
March 2017
July 2018
June 2019
March 6/20
March 23/20
March 30/20
July 18/20
Financial regulation 35 10 7 7 4     1 7
Macroeconomics 22 5 5 2 5 2 2   1
Taxation 13 1 5 1 4       2
International financial institution reform 9   3   4       2
Health 13 1     1 4 1 2 6
Crime/corruption 6   1   5        
International cooperation 8 1 4   1   1 1 1
Terrorism 11 2 1 1 1       6
Debt 4       4        
Trade 4 3             1
Development 7 1 1   1     2 4
Climate 2 2              
Energy 2 1 1            
Digitalization 1     1          
Social 1               1
Infrastructure 2               2
Total 157 27 28 12 30 6 4 6 33

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