Event Summary: G-20 to Replace the G-8: Why Not Now?

September 23, 2004


This short summary report attempts to highlight the main issues raised in a Brookings Workshop held on September 22, 2004, and reveal varied viewpoints surrounding those issues. The half-day Workshop consisted of a relatively small group of 30 people with experience as scholars, officials or both on summits and efforts at international cooperation and coordination. The purpose of the Workshop was to explore alternative perspectives and viewpoints rather than to seek a consensus. Nonetheless, the discussion did occasionally lead to convergence which is noted here. This report of the discussion is designed to give a sense of the range of issues and ideas discussed and not to replicate that discussion. No attribution is given.

Chairs’ Summary of Issues:

  • 1. The distinction between what Canadians call “leaders level” (L) and ministerial level meetings (G) was important in clarifying that the central issue is whether the creation of an L-20 makes sense and whether its displacement of the G-7/8 is a desirable consequence. Many participants felt that, even though a strong case could be made for replacement due to an overabundance of international meetings, that the G-7/8 continues to have useful functions to perform, especially at the minister of finance level but also occasionally at leaders level.

2. At leaders level, there was considerable sympathy for preserving the informality of meetings of heads of state and direct, unfettered dialogue among leaders alone, without staff or other officials, as an effective modality for increasing international understanding and cooperation. On the other hand, there was a concern that this format might preclude or weaken decision-making and specific strategic conclusions which would entail greater coordination and preparation than an informal give-and-take.

3. There was also tension between the recognition that opening up the “Pandora’s box” of the membership issue had the decided disadvantage of prolonging the time it would take to achieve change and the recognition that even though the G-20 represents over 60 percent of the world’s population (as compared to 13 percent for the G-8) there remain serious issues of the fairness of representation in the G-20 composition. Small low income countries are left out. Some regions are represented better than others.

4. A strong case was made that one of the broad issue areas that an L-20 could focus on would be the intersectoral agenda embodied in the Millennium Development Goals and the interministerial and interinstitutional relations issues raised by the MDG agenda. There was also concern about the potentially unwieldy nature of this agenda and the difficulty of gaining traction on operational and programmatic levels from strategic guidance at leaders level.

5. There was a broad concern about achieving effectiveness and results from international coordination and international institutions. In this regard, the focus on the MDGs was seen as positive since they are focused on outcomes rather than inputs.

6. One way that might be possible to improve representativeness and enhance effectiveness simultaneously on coordination of linkages between major issues and international institutions, is to convene different configurations of ministers from different countries and different sectors at ministerial (G) level to prepare these intersectoral issues for decision or guidance by heads. The choice of country configurations would vary accordingly to align with the importance of countries in the issue area under consideration. But some overall identification with the leader (L) level grouping would be desirable to maintain.

7. Most participants seemed to favor a transition between the current arrangements where the G-7/8 meets at leaders level and ministers of finance meet at both G-7 and G-20 levels and that over time there be a gradual transition to a larger, more representative grouping at leaders level as issues and timing seem to be right to do so.

8. There were some who felt that this transition phase should be characterized by gradual addition of formal members to the G-8 as conditions warrant and as successful bargains can be struck with entering countries in terms of compliance with norms for democratic governance, adjustment of key policy stances (the fixed exchange rate in China, for example) or other reforms in exchange for entrance. Others felt that the stalemate in global governance reform had already gone on too long, that the obsolescence of the G-7 was so compelling that a single, immediate and dramatic shift from G-7 to G-20 where the membership would not be debated is what is called for to meet political imperatives.