The G20 summit is over - what happens next?

G20 members must not forget smaller economies in their post-pandemic plan

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz gives a virtual speech during an opening session of the 15th annual G20 Summit World Leaders, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 21, 2020. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
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The 2020 G20 summit concluded yesterday, bringing to a close one of the organisation’s most important meetings since its inception in 1999.

The mandate of the organisation is to promote global economic co-operation. With its members totalling 80 per cent of the world’s economic output, what it discusses in its annual, two-day summits matters.

It is no surprise that this year’s meeting focused on the pandemic and post-Covid-19 global economic recovery. But what does such a recovery really mean?

It not only entails scientific and medical progress, but the regeneration of economies, too. And not just high-income economies – the world will not be healed fully until all nations, rich or poor, are back on track.

For all of the club’s lofty ideals, however, even G20 member states are not immune to the cut-throat atmosphere brought about by the pandemic, in which nations jockey to protect their own citizens first. In response to this phenomenon, King Salman of Saudi Arabia stressed the urgent need to ensure vaccine distribution is “affordable and equitable for all people.”

A primary focus for Saudi Arabia’s G20 presidency this year has been a comprehensive plan to support lower-income countries, ensuring the fair distribution of vaccines worldwide. Saudi Arabia is right to seek pledges from member states. Not doing so risks a free-for-all in which large economies hoard at the expense of smaller ones.

King Salman also said that the subject areas of the this year’s G20, Empowering People, Safeguarding the Planet, and Shaping New Frontiers, all play a role in overcoming the challenge posed by the virus.

These areas are particularly relevant when it comes to vaccines. Researchers at Duke University in the US have estimated that high and middle-income countries have already secured almost 4 billion vaccine doses. Canada has reportedly purchased enough stocks to immunise each of its citizens five times over.

Experts estimate this unequal concentration of stocks could prolong the virus’s grip on the global economy until 2024. According to the Rand Corporation, a think tank, unequal distribution of vaccine doses could cost the global economy $1.2 trillion a year.

Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN, was right to call for more nations to join the COVAX programme started by Gavi, the global vaccine alliance. COVAX was conceived early in the pandemic with a specific focused on the just distribution of future Covid-19 jabs.

Even when much of the world is immunised, the legacy of mass unemployment may be slower to fade. Technology’s role in keeping the economy’s engines running during Covid-19 has accelerated the effects of a broader phenomenon, which is the growing tension between technological development and employment.

Without the internet, automation and artificial intelligence, the pandemic may have wrought a much heavier toll on us this year. They were saving graces at a time when everyone was shielding in their homes. But when millions of people return to daily life, they must not find that the tools that helped them at home have now replaced them entirely at the workplace.

In this handout image provided by DGDA, Diriyah Gate Development Authority of Saudi, a family photo featuring members of the G20 is projected onto the walls of Salwa Palace, At Turaif on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2020 in Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Meshari-Alharbi, DGDA via AP)
Rather than the usual G20 leaders photo, Covid-19 restrictions required a digitally created image. AP
The complexity of the task ahead reminds us that we need the spirit of multilateralism embodied by the G20

G20 leaders, and those of other nations, can avoid such a scenario by embracing the ideals of early tech, which sought to empower people and information sharing. By increasing skills and tech literacy, and extending opportunities to a greater share of the global workforce, a G20 blueprint for recovery can protect the human aspect of the global economy.

The complexity of the task ahead reminds us that we need the spirit of multilateralism embodied by the G20 and other such organisations. It also reminds us that going it alone is rarely a winning strategy for any nation in meeting today’s challenges. After all, a prosperous economy cannot maintain its health if it does not engage with smaller ones.

Over the months and years ahead, what ought to emerge from the discussions had at this year’s summit is a renewed vigour in the G20’s core ideal: powerful nations pursuing economic development for the interests of all.