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The G20 Osaka Summit's Broad Substantial Success

John Kirton, G20 Research Group
June 29, 2019

The G20 leaders at Osaka have produced a summit of broad, substantial success. It featured important achievements on its central, controversial issues of trade and meaningful advances on many subjects of social and ecological sustainability and security. Only on the critical challenge of controlling the climate crisis did it fail to do enough to meet the urgent need.

The G20's first achievement came on host Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe's signature initiative of launching the "Osaka Track" for digital free flow with trust. Almost all G20 leaders, including Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, agreed to launch this process for rules-based multilateral trade liberation by providing a highest level political push to the World Trade Organization's e-commerce negotiations, aiming for substantial progress by June 2030.

The second achievement came on trade liberation and the rules-based multilateral system and bilateral and plurilateral economic partnership agreement at its core. G20 leaders affirmed their belief that open international trade is a source of economic growth, that it should be rules based and that the WTO should be urgently reformed. This was backed by Xi's promise to all of his G20 colleagues that he would open the Chinese economy, take in more important and provide foreign direct investors a level playing field with the domestic Chinese ones. While the G20's traditional anti-protectionist pledge was not reproduced verbatim, similar sentiments were clearly expressed in other worlds.

The third achievement, as the icing on the free trade cake, was the announcement by presidents Trump and Xi of a trade truce in their escalating trade war, and the resumption of bilateral trade negotiations that would lead to a broader, durable deal. With the U.S. and Chinese economies slowing, with the U.S elections coming, and with the Chinese leadership worried about social unrest, both sides have strong incentives to make and keep the deal.

The fourth advance, on the broader agenda, was the launch of the first international regime to reduce plastic pollution in the oceans.

The fifth advance was an agreement on principles for quality infrastructure investment, focused on openness and transparency in governance and procurement.

The sixth advance was a similar agreement on debt transparency and sustainability.

The seventh advance was on taxation, where G20 leaders agreed to produce by 2030 a revolutionary regime to ensure that companies paid their fair share of taxes to the countries where the value was created by their customers and users, rather than the country where they declare their headquarters.

The eighth advance was on universal health coverage by encouraging all developing countries to adopt it, as a driver of their own development by 2030.

The ninth advance was the start of a new G20 agenda on aging populations, to identify and adjust to their implications for fiscal, monetary, healthcare and social policies.

The tenth advance was a boost for innovative clean energy technology, to help control climate change. But beyond this limited contribution, little was done to cope with the climate crisis, even as people were dying in the historically high heat in Europe, India and elsewhere.

In the face of this great failure on climate change at Osaka, attention will turn to the next summits of the G7 at Biarritz, France, on August 24–26 and the United Nations in New York City on September 23.

Beyond these top ten advances, there were other useful ones. At Australia's initiative, G20 leaders agreed to act against social media fostering terrorist radicalization, recruitment, financing and planning, as it had with such deadly impact in Christchurch, New Zealand, a few months before. This strengthened the G20's relevance as a global security governor in the digital age.

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