March 27, 2009
Will summits bring relief?


There is no longer any pretence about it: the world economy is in trouble-deep trouble at that. Weekly, there are reports of more bank failures, of companies, large and small alike, going bust, of thousands of workers losing their jobs, and of farmers finding it harder and harder to feed their families. Every week, even the gloomy predictions of recession are revised downwards as the global crisis continues to defy the best efforts of world leaders to arrest the slide.{{more}} The fate of millions the world over is hanging in the balance.

In an effort to try and arrive at a global solution, the leaders of some of the world’s largest economies, the G-20 nations as they are called, meet in London next week. On the agenda are the critical issues of reviving the world economy, restoring financial credit, strengthening banking regulations in the wake of the scandalous happenings in that sector, an enhanced role for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the need for much greater assistance to developing countries. The meeting will take place against the backdrop of conflicting views across the Atlantic (the USA and Europe) over how best to tackle the global downturn.

It will not just be the interests of these two economic giants being discussed at the Summit, for major developing nations such as China and India from Asia, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina from Latin America, South Africa, representing the African continent, as well as such powerhouses as Russia and Japan, will also be at the table. Outside the Conference, one can expect a horde of angry protesters with a range of concerns such as those directly affected by the crisis, environmentalists and persons concerned about global survival in the face of climate change, to be demanding firm action on these crucial matters.

There will be particular interest in this G-20 Summit since it will be the first one to be attended by the new US President Barack Obama. Elected on a populist platform for change, billions of people will be looking to see what new approaches he can bring to this august gathering. But while expectations may be high, they may also be unrealistic in the circumstances. It looks too early to expect the US President to be able to influence any radical change. Yet the signals from this Summit are going to have a bearing on world markets and economic policies.

Two weeks after the G-20, President Obama will again come face to face with Latin American leaders. This time it will be not only the hemispheric giants of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, but Heads of State and Government from the entire western hemisphere, Cuba excepted. They will meet in Port of Spain at the Fifth Summit of the Americas, the highest gathering of hemispheric leaders. Here, while there are shared concerns about the state of the world economy, the perspectives are likely to be different. Caribbean and Latin American leaders will want to focus on combating endemic poverty and on hemispheric cooperation to ensure sustainable development. The scourges of disease, including AIDS, hunger and drugs, are high on their list of priorities.

Can we, therefore, realistically hold high hopes for definitive action arising from these high-level gatherings? Will the outcome help to bring meaningful relief for those drowning in the wake of the global economic meltdown? It would be nice to be optimistic, but all the signs warn us not to be overly ambitious.