Hopes for clear consensus on climate change and multilateralism fell flat this weekend, as G20 leaders produced a tenuous summit communique.
The agreement, signed Saturday afternoon in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Costa Salguero, follows months of uncertainty over whether the meeting would produce any agreement at all. Similar meetings between members of the G7 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation countries (APEC) earlier this year failed to produce unanimous statements. With US-China trade tension at new highs, consensus seemed unlikely.
This weekend’s summit, to some extent, proved doubters wrong. President Mauricio Macri called it “unprecedented,” telling journalists Saturday afternoon that he was “happy that [leaders] achieved a communique that says and ratifies a lot… everyone collaborated in a moment when there is a lot of tension in the world.”
That said, the communique itself can hardly be called an agreement. While the document tips its hat to issues from immigration to technological advancement and job training, it leaves key questions on climate change and global trade unresolved.
Points for Argentina
Argentina, to its credit, managed to include key tenets on all three of its stated priorities: the future of work, infrastructure for development, and a sustainable food future — all based in a demand for gender mainstreaming.
The document also includes a paragraph that looks like Argentina’s attempt at reiterating its austerity agreements with the IMF, reading that “fiscal policy should rebuild buffers where needed, be used flexibly and be growth friendly, while ensuring public debt is on a sustainable path.” This means nothing, as no IMF deal in the history of IMF deals has ever been called flexible or growth friendly. Somewhere in downtown Buenos Aires, though, Christine Lagarde is smiling.
Otherwise, the communique includes little else worthy of celebration. G20 leaders managed to sign the thing without actually agreeing at all on the issue of climate change. In an, “agree to disagree” diplomatic maneuver, 18 member countries and the EU reaffirmed their dedication to the Paris Climate Accords. Much like last year’s G20, the US was allowed to reaffirm its dedication to leaving the agreement in a separate paragraph.
The declaration also marks a continued diversion from the path set out at the G20’s founding. Since the summits’ inception in 2008, communiques have counted on strong anti-protectionist language. Born of financial crisis, the G20 was created as a globalist anchor to stay the world’s largest economies in storms of instability.
The 2018 communique omits anti-protectionist calls altogether. It instead highlights countries’ commitment to ”improve a rules-based international order that is capable of effectively responding to a rapidly changing world.” Translation: whatever we’re doing isn’t working.
Similar hedges apply to the current international system. Leaders recognize the contributions of multilateralism to the global economy, but state that the current system is “falling short of its objectives and there is room for improvement.” The communique agrees on the need to reform the World Trade Organization, but gives no specifics.
With the communique signed, the summit is officially over. Leaders will continue to meet and sign deals through the end of the weekend, signing much more significant documents. For now, at least, we have a communique.