From the President: Lessons From the G20 and Rio+20 Summits

If addressing business needs is your yardstick, only one of this past summer’s big diplomatic events measured up.

USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson
USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson

Note: A version of this column, written with Norine Kennedy, USCIB’s Vice President for Environment and Energy, appeared in the Washington-based newspaper The Hill in July. It serves as a timely reminder of the importance of business representation in major international gatherings such as the G20 and Rio+20 Summits, and of USCIB’s central role in representing member views to governments through our global network.

Over the coming year, there will be many other summits – on climate change, the future of the Internet and many other issues. It is essential that the process of inter-governmental policy-making and rule-making be well informed with business views and input.  As always, we at USCIB look forward to facilitating that business presence.

Many in the media shrugged off the recent G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico and the United Nations’ Rio+20 earth summit in Brazil as failures, long on promises to speed economic recovery and promote sustainable growth, but short on actual commitments and deliverables.

As business representatives who took part in both events, we beg to differ.  While much remains to be done, useful lessons can be drawn from each summit to help us move forward.

The G20 summit resulted in a clear understanding that European governments must move beyond austerity in an effort to restart global growth, and developments in the eurozone since the summit have been somewhat encouraging.  Clearly the G20 is an important mechanism to coordinate responses in a crisis, and it is fulfilling that mandate once again.

G20 governments also renewed their pledge to avoid protectionist measures that could derail growth.  And the summit provided strong impetus to move ahead on bringing Canada and Mexico into the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks.

An active business role

In Los Cabos, even more than at previous summits, the business community played a very active role.  CEOs and other business leaders held their own summit, the B20, meeting with many of the G20 leaders.  The private sector put forward an agenda to spur growth by improving access to capital, rolling back trade and investment protectionism, and protecting intellectual property rights, among other measures.

Via the International Chamber of Commerce, business also unveiled a scorecard to hold G20 leaders accountable for living up to their pledges (an initiative that was actually welcomed by a number of government leaders).

In short, while the ultimate form and scope of business input to the G20 going forward remains to be determined, Mexico set a clear precedent that private-sector views should be sought out and can be successfully integrated into the summit process.  This is important, because the full cooperation from the business community is essential to implement and follow up on decisions made by G20 leaders.

Focus on results

The results were a bit more mixed at Rio+20.  Here is our scorecard:

  • First, what gets measured gets managed, and we were pleased that UN members agreed to develop better metrics and indicators to gauge progress toward a greener economy.  But companies still want a commitment to use trade as a “carrot” rather than a “stick,” to keep markets open and encourage developing countries to realize the positive side of moving to more sustainable models of development.
  • Second, business requires predictability in order to plan and invest for the future.  While the final outcome document in Rio recognized the need to square economic and environmental policies, and the importance of R&D, it was skewed to environmental, rather than economic, approaches.  The Rio+20 process clearly would have benefited from greater participation from economic, commerce and trade ministries.
  • Finally, we were disappointed that the Rio+20 outcomes almost completely ignore the need for business to be involved in the process of building a greener economy.  If we truly want to re-launch growth and lay the groundwork for a better, more sustainable world for our children, the private sector needs to play a major role.

Overall, the G20 and Rio+20 summits underscored the importance of having a manageable process and reasonable expectations going into major summits.  We would say that Los Cabos passed that test, while Rio rated an “incomplete.”


Other recent postings from Mr. Robinson:

Education for the 21st Century (Summer 2012)

Ensuring a Dynamic and Secure Internet (Spring 2012)

Green Growth: Getting the Policies Right (Winter 2011/2012)

Supply Chain Challenges (Fall 2011)

Staff Contact:   Peter Robinson

President and CEO
Tel: 212.703.5046

Peter Robinson is USCIB’s 15th president. USCIB, founded in 1945, is a policy advocacy and trade services organization dedicated to promoting open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and regulatory coherence.
Read More

Related Content