G20: Security, Trade, Climate, Trump Diplomacy Overshadow Health, IT, Innovation

On the eve of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, German politicians described positions on free trade and climate as the most difficult issues. Expectations from civil society groups in the G20 results are modest at best and the 6 July protest march “Welcome to Hell” was cancelled after clashes between the police and parts of the protestors.

The G20 participants are the heads of states of 19 countries and the European Union, and the countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, France, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa – the only African country – South Korea, Turkey and the United States.

“The question how are we [to] treat each other in international trade, do we do it based on international law or do we give in to the law of the jungle, plus the future of the climate – these are the two controversial issues,” said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, speaking right after a meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump.

Gabriel described the meeting as “friendly” and a “good discussion”, but acknowledged there is a lot of consensus with regard to foreign policy topics, from the situation in the Gulf region, Ukraine, Syria and North Korea, there is some tough negotiating ahead during the two-day summit starting tomorrow on trade and climate.

On trade, the EU and Japan were eager to close their bilateral trade deal this week, despite the fact that a number of details will only be finalised in the time until the end of the year.

Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking on the difficult task to forge a joint communique, said on German national broadcasting: “We will not gloss over the dissenting opinions, but instead take note of it.” Merkel also said there are different understandings about globalisation. Gabriel even acknowledged that the G20 in fact lacks talks with and about those too poor to participate in world trade.

The controversies over trade and climate, as well as the topics of the anti-terror fight and security policy in foreign policy, are expected to consume most of the attention of the G20 heads of states during their two-day meeting. Much nervousness also has built up over meetings between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The newer topics on the G20 agenda, namely global health, digitalisation and innovation, according to observers presumably will be covered based on the papers presented by pre-conferences between the health and IT ministers earlier this year (see IP-Watch stories here and here).

Both the business community and civil society have also presented their recommendations at earlier conferences with civil society urging governments to turn around policies favouring big agro-business at the cost of small farmers.

“We call on governments to reinstate a functioning market in seeds by taking adequate antitrust measures against the seed oligopoly and abolishing any law or trade agreement criminalising the free exchange of seeds by farmers,” one of the recommendations of the “C20” reads.

The Science20, the first G20 dialogue of scientists, in their brief recommendation focused on global health, asking governments to strengthen healthcare and public health systems and also ensuring access to health resources globally. Activists and experts have described the compromise papers agreed upon by health or IT ministers as rather weak.

No Expectation of Real Solutions

“A thousand figures” – art protest in Hamburg

No expectations for real solutions with regard to health, poverty and climate had activists gathered at the alternative “Global Solidarity Summit” Wednesday and Thursday in Hamburg. Alternative Nobel Prize awardee Vandana Shiva questioned the G20 motto of international connectedness, warning against an imposed global integration and the creation of monopolistic structures. Some 95 percent of cotton seed companies in India are in the hand of Monsanto, she warned.

The proclamation of the age of IT, industry or agriculture 4.0 and big data Shiva rejected as “propaganda”. “In India, many people do not even have a roof, but they now shall all have a smart phone,” she questioned. Challenging mono-cultures, celebrating diversity, fighting the privatization of the commons were her recommendations for the alternative summit. The G20 governments are not able to solve the issues, as they are only “sherpas of financial investors,” she said.

Jane Nalunga, Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute country director from Uganda, said in an interview before the alternative summit: “It is difficult to make demands to the G20 because it is a club of rich people.” Demands could rather be made toward institutions like the World Trade Organization or United Nations. Nalunga said she does not expect much, as “whatever they wanted to do they are going to do.”

Nalunga as well as Clotilde Ohouochi, former minister for social affairs of the Ivory Coast, questioned the effectiveness of the European initiative “compact for Africa” as well as Chancellor Merkel’s Marshal Plan for Africa as concepts helping foreign investors first.

Ohouochi said the slow development in Africa resulted from the fact that many African politicians are rather businessmen instead of statesman, but also from an “Africa independent without independence.” Decisions over major projects would be taken in Europe, for the former French colonies in France, she criticized, citing a failed attempt in her country to introduce health insurance for all.

Nalunga said that more investment through compact for Africa in infrastructure was good and has been going on for a while, “but we cannot use the infrastructure as there is no production.”