Summit to tackle protectionism, climate change

  • Published : Nov 11, 2010 - 08:34
  • Updated : Nov 11, 2010 - 08:34
The Group of 20 leaders are expected to declare their resolve to fend off a resurfacing trade protectionism which is casting cloud over a fragile global recovery.

As the principal coordination panel of global powerhouses, the G20 is also expanding its agenda to climate change, poverty, resources, corruption and other challenges to the world.

Korea, the first emerging economy to host a G20 summit, is putting priority on a consensus to abstain from protective trade measures at the Seoul forum.

In the first G20 summit in Washington, D.C. in 2008, President Lee Myung-bak proposed that nations adopt the “stand-still declaration” that urges countries not to take additional trade barriers.

Despite the G20’s efforts, the threat of protectionism still looms large, as countries struggle to boost their sluggish economy. According to a 2009 World Bank report, 17 of the G20 members introduced trade-restricting measures after the 2008 summit.

At the summit, Korea seeks to organize active discussions on the Doha Development Agenda, the current trade-negotiation round of the World Trade Organization which began in 2001. The G20’s support could contribute greatly to the completion of the DDA this year as planned.

The summit is also expected to raise the need for the G20’s active involvement in non-economic mandates.

Seoul is particularly hoping to put green growth high on the agenda and preach cooperation with international organizations to tackle poverty, resource development and other pressing issues.

During the meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors in Gyeongju last month, participants agreed to advance the agenda of green growth at the Seoul summit.

“We noted the progress made on rationalizing and phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and promoting energy market transparency and stability and agreed to monitor and assess progress towards this commitment at the Seoul summit,” the statement said.

Green growth has recently emerged as a major buzzword in the global economy. Nations which have focused on growth based on manufacturing have shifted their direction to reducing green gas emissions and promoting high-tech, environment-friendly industries, realizing the seriousness of the global climate change problem.

The G20 summit was first held in 2008 when the global financial crisis hit its worst point and has been successful in forging international cooperation to quickly move out of the crisis.

The G20 is now regarded as the premier forum on global economic issues as it accounts for about 85 percent of global GDP, 80 percent of global trade and two-thirds of the world’s population.

If the Seoul summit produces a meaningful result, it will increase momentum for global efforts to tackle climate change including the Yokohama APEC Economic Leaders’ meeting and the Cancun Climate Change Meeting.

The Seoul summit will also discuss ways to increase assistance to underdeveloped parts of the world which suffer from famine and water shortages.

The Gyeongju finance chiefs’ meeting communiqu reaffirmed their commitment to greater assistance to developing countries.

“We look forward to the multi-year action plan of the G20 Working Group on Development to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth and resilience in developing countries,” the statement said.

They promised to reinforce their efforts to meet the U.N. Millennium Development Goals by 2015 through development aid, while supporting the scale up of agriculture assistance in several developing countries.

The Seoul summit is also expected to play a pivotal role in initiating discuss ions on the global rare earth shortage issue.

Leading producers of high-tech information technology devices including Germany, Japan and the United States have declared they will press China in Seoul over its monopoly and unreasonable international policies regarding rare earth materials.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought up the issue in a recent meeting with Chinese officials to discuss regional tension in the southern Chinese island of Hainan

Rare earth elements, a collection of 17 metals, are a small but essential input for production of such technology-intensive products as semiconductors, rechargeable batteries for automobiles, computers and LEDs. The global demand for them has soared in recent years.

In spite of the abundant reserves of rare earths worldwide, the trickiness and dangerousness in processing them has left most developed countries reluctant to explore them.

China currently provides more than 97 percent of all global rare earths at around 120,000 tons annually. The country has recently started to control the prices of rare earth elements, taking advantage of its virtual monopoly on their production and supply. It also put a quota on their domestic use and an export tax for Chinese businesses.

As a result, the prices of cerium, neodymium and dysprosium have risen 383 percent, 139 percent and 133 percent, respectively, compared to early this year. 

By Koh Young-aah (youngaah@heraldcorp.com)