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B20: Private Sector ‘Ready to Contribute’ to Progress in Multilateral System

An interview with B20 officials on the private sector's role at the G20

By | [email protected] | September 11, 2018 10:40am

b20-reunion-mendozaB20 leaders met in Mendoza last week for the Global Employer's Forum (Photo: B20)
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As the leadership summit at the end of November fast approaches, G20 engagement groups have been diligently focused on Argentina’s mission for the multilateral forum. The private sector’s representation, through the Business20 (B20) is no exception.

The Bubble reached out to B20 Executive Director Carolina Castro and Policy Sherpa Fernando Landa for more on the private sector’s role in Argentina’s G20 presidency.

How was last week’s Global Employer’s Forum in Mendoza? What were the objectives set for the week?

CC: The Global Employers’ Forum has been an initiative for the last several years uniting the employment and education task forces. We had the opportunity to present a joint statement with the Labor20 (L20) working group, after several months of negotiating an agreement, that focuses on education, social protection, and the future of work.

What specific policies or strategies have you put in place to connect the private sector among G20 countries? How has the political climate impacted your ability to discuss and negotiate? 

FL: The B20 process is an extended one. Over the past 10 months, we have undergone 56 task force meetings on top of a similar number of coordination group meetings for each task force and have participated in 32 side events. There has been extensive interaction with the other G20 working groups. We either had the permanent chair in working group meetings (such as last week’s Employment Meetings) or were invited to present our consensus recommendations.

In any case, the G20 governments have been interested in hearing our recommendations. The current political climate, if anything, has added interest in our ability to reach out and suggest positive consensus recommendations and action plans.

CC: The private sector has raised its voice in support of the G20 in spite of the challenges to multilateralism. This year, you see an increased amount of participation among business federations and small and medium enterprises (SMEs). It seems that because of the challenging world, the private sector has stepped up to address the issues.

With cooperation and collaboration among countries on a production level at an all-time low, how does the B20 respond? What can the group do to set the example for the rest of the world? 

FL: I would put our current environment in a different light. Most multilateral institutions were derived from post-WWII initiatives. Multilateralism provides institutional certainty that helps investment and has contributed to sustained development and growth over the years. Over time, technological changes as well as substantial political changes have challenged paradigms that were taken for granted and some institutions have not been able to adequately follow these changes.

As a consequence, in a world that keeps evolving, many rules were developed not at a multilateral level but rather within certain regional agreements. It would be a mistake to blame multilateralism for not having achieved solutions to emerging distortions or new rules that should have been developed already.

The business community of B20 believes there is enough consensus to make progress, for example in reshaping the multilateral trading system, and we stand ready to contribute.

The Trade and Investment meetings in Mar Del Plata later this week come at an opportune moment in terms of the current international political conversation. Keeping this in mind, how is the B20 going to have its voice heard? 

FL: As in all other working groups, we have shared with the G20 working group chair our recommendations, we have also shared with the World Trade Organization’s secretariat our standpoint. The B20 represents all business federations of G20 countries, as well as a group of 1200 companies employing around 38 million people. We have also engaged with social partners and civil society to provide a comprehensive view to our recommendations. We are certainly confident we will have significant relevance in G20’s recommendations, as we have thus far.

Despite this administration’s efforts to open the economy, Argentina remains one of the  most protectionist and closed economies of the G20. Hosting the G20 this year, what kind of consensus can you expect to build with a closed economy? What are some of the core elements of the policy moving forward? 

FL: Argentina has changed substantially towards integration with the rest of the world and will certainly continue to do so. The G20 is a global governance forum, and if you look to a multilateral agenda we all share, it would be the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

We are the hosts of this process and as such we need to be open and promote ideas that – based on best practices or innovative ideas – would advance this agenda, ensuring inclusivity and growth.

The 70 recommendations from the business sector result from a consensus process in which everyone has access to what everyone else has considered and react accordingly. Any recommendation would be immature without implementation so we provide an extensive list of action plans for each one. We ended up with a list of actionable measures 75 percent of which are implementable at the national level, while 25 percent are meant to be discussed and implemented within multilateral forums.

CC:  This administration has made efforts to bring the country back to the discussion table. For a small country in terms of economic power, Argentina’s presidency of the G20 has sent a message overseas that the country is able make the most of its potential. I think the Argentine private sector has strongly engaged with the process, which is an important sign that they’re embracing a more open environment.

We were able to build a consensus based on focus, made possible by the sheer amount of time we’ve had to work together. We have had 6-8 meetings, almost half of them face-to-face, and the remainder via teleconference with hundreds of individuals in attendance. It has been a very collaborative process, engaging with the troika, Germany and Japan, particularly to progress the discussion.

Carolina, given your experience in both the private and public sector, what has been your most valuable lesson learned while working in both sectors? What would be your message to young leaders looking to go into the business sector? 

CC: The most valuable lesson I learned from the public sector is that you really need to be connected with the real-life economy on a day-to-day basis. Only when you take the time to listen to what is going on with real economic factors then are you able to design public policy. With a country of over 40 million inhabitants there are challenges in the private sector with a production matrix and increasing and improving exports. There is a long way to go: we do need macroeconomic stability, but we also need public policies to address specific issues, including industrial politics and education.

For young leaders, it’s a tough moment to join the workforce, but young people’s involvement is integral for the future growth in the private sector.

In a moment in time where Argentina is opening itself up to the world, the G20 presidency has been highlighted as a key leadership opportunity for the country. What kind of legacy would you want for the G20 and B20? 

CC: The whole point of G20 discussions is to enable cooperation on a global scale. Many of the challenges we are facing as a society are only going to be dealt with if we have global scale cooperation. During a time where multilateralism has been challenged, we would like to reinforce the positive side of having clear rules and global standards.

Argentina’s presidency has chosen strategic priorities this year. Education and the future of work are priorities of all G20 countries, infrastructure is key issue to resolve, and improving the food systems are challenges to undertake on a global scale. These priorities are a good legacy for the presidency.

LF: We have made a point to highlight the importance of several important themes including: transparency, building a culture of integrity, education as the true enabler of equal opportunities,  bridging the gender gap, fostering the adoption of technology (particularly maximizing the potential of digital technologies), climate exchange,  providing transitions to cleaner energies while ensuring availability for all, promoting a sustainable use of resources, achieving a strong private capital participation to develop infrastructure.

Ultimately, we wish our legacy to be the importance of reaching consensus with governments and all members of civil society. When times are difficult, such as they appear to be now in some arenas, it is even more valuable to support governability, by engaging meaningful discussions on urgent, relevant, and tangible matters. “Leading by example” is the G20 motto and we believe it is possible.

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The B20 will next attend the Trade and Investment Working Group in Mar Del Plata this Wednesday and Thursday.