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Whether future historians remember last week’s G-20 Summit in Cannes will depend on what happens in the weeks and months ahead. If the eurozone problems spiral out of control, Cannes will be to the coming crash as the 1933 London Economic Conference was to the Great Depression: a lost chance to avert calamity. If Europe muddles through, the brief association of Cannes with the G-20 will be soon forgotten and the resort will again be famous for its film festival.
Last week, the G-20 agriculture ministers meeting in Paris issued a communiqué calling for the World Food Programme to develop hedging strategies to purchase food. In a little-noticed section towards the end of a 24-page document, the ministers stated:
We invite the multilateral, regional and national development banks or agencies to further explore, in connection with the private sector as appropriate:
Development of hedging strategies that could help international humanitarian agencies, in particular WFP, to optimize food procurements and maximize the purchasing power of financial resources, building upon forward purchase… (Annex 5)
The G20 agriculture ministers seem to agree: they're all for food security, as long as it doesn't cost anything. The communiqué from last week's summit in Paris has lots of nice rhetoric and some good ideas, but no resources to implement them. In some cases, new priorities duplicate other efforts; in others, the ministers overlooked policy options that would have a big impact and cost little – or even save money – as with increased trade access or ending export restrictions and biofuel subsidies.
For example, take the proposed new Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) “to improve the quality, reliability, accuracy, timeliness and comparability of data on agricultural markets (production, consumption and stocks);” who could disagree with that? But the UN Food and Agricultural Organization already collates and publishes much of the available data (as well as regularly reporting on the outlook for food and individual commodity markets), and USAID’s Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) reports on a wide range of conditions that could lead to famine. So is the need really for a new system to do pretty much the same thing or is the need for resources to help developing countries build the capacity to improve local data collection that can then be fed into the FAO system?
Last years’ G-20 and G-8 meetings produced important commitments to bolster tax systems and to fight corruption. The upcoming G-20 meeting in Brisbane will show just how serious member countries are about delivering on them.
I’m clearly not much of a prognosticator. In highlighting, with skepticism, the World Bank’s new Global Infrastructure Facility as a major G-20 Brisbane outcome on infrastructure, I missed far more of the actual agenda than I should have.
“Energy Sustainability” is high on the agenda for the G-20 meeting in Antalya, Turkey, next week. In practice, this means the governments of the world’s leading economies will pledge to continue the laudable goals of phasing out inefficient subsides and boosting energy efficiency. But the meatier agenda is two wonkier research items. According to the Turkish presidency priorities communiqué (PDF), the G-20 will “study the reasons behind the high cost of renewable energy investment and examine the deployment of public and private resources to fulfill the need for energy investment.”