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What you need to know about the G-20 Summit

This year's meeting takes place in Osaka, Japan, on Friday and Saturday, and the official agenda includes trade, artificial intelligence, women's empowerment and climate change

By Michael Crowley
Published: Jun 28, 2019

What you need to know about the G-20 SummitPresident Donald Trump arrives ahead of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, June 27, 2019. With so many top officials in one place, the summit also serves as an all-purpose jamboree of nonstop formal and informal diplomatic activity. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

OSAKA, Japan — The annual Group of 20 summit meeting, which brings together President Donald Trump and other world leaders, is intended to foster global economic cooperation. But with so many top officials in one place, it also serves as an all-purpose jamboree of nonstop formal and informal diplomatic activity.

This year’s meeting takes place in Osaka, Japan, on Friday and Saturday, and the official agenda includes trade, artificial intelligence, women’s empowerment and climate change. If the members can reach consensus on those subjects and others, they will produce an official joint declaration at the end.

That might not be easy: President Emmanuel Macron of France, in a challenge to the United States, has threatened not to sign any joint statement that does not adequately address climate change. And Trump, before reaching Osaka, lashed out at Japan, Germany and India — all U.S. allies.

Trump’s primary focus, however, is likely to be on a series of one-on-one meetings with foreign leaders. On Friday, he is to sit down with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, with whom he hopes to refresh relations, and on Saturday, he is to meet with President Xi Jinping of China, with whom he planned to discuss a trade standoff that has spooked global markets.

Here is a look at what the Group of 20 is and does, and some of the important things to watch over the next two days.

What is the G-20?
The Group of 20 is an organization of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 individual countries and the European Union.

In addition to the United States, those countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey. Collectively, its members represent more than 80% of the world’s gross domestic product.

Established in 1999 after a series of major international debt crises, the G-20 aims to unite world leaders around shared economic, political and health challenges. It is a creation of the more select Group of 7, an informal bloc of industrialized democracies.

Supporters argue that as national economies grow ever more globalized, it is essential that political and finance leaders work closely together.

What is the G-20 summit?
Formally the “Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy,” the G-20 meeting is an annual gathering of finance ministers and heads of state representing the members.

It bills itself as the “premier forum for international economic cooperation.” The heads of state first convened officially in November 2008, as the global financial crisis began to unfold, and have met at least once a year since then.

The annual summit meeting is hosted by the nation holding the rotating presidency; this year, it’s Japan. Representatives from other nations and global organizations are also expected to attend the Osaka gathering, including Spain, Vietnam, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The meetings transform their host city into one of the world’s most heavily secured places. According to Japanese news reports, 32,000 police officers will be guarding Osaka, where many streets will be closed and trash cans have been sealed. The city’s red-light district will be hanging discreet curtains and curbing illicit activities.

What happens at a G-20 summit?
It is focused on several core issues around which its leaders hope to reach a consensus for collective action. The goal is to conclude the two-day gathering by issuing a joint statement committing its members to action, although the declaration is not legally binding.

But one-on-one meetings can overshadow official business. Trump and Putin met for the first time on the sidelines of the 2017 summit in Hamburg, Germany, holding a heavily scrutinized formal meeting as well as a one-on-one discussion that the White House confirmed days later.

What will be on this year’s agenda?
The official themes for Osaka include global economic risks, trade disputes, job growth and investment, innovation and artificial intelligence, and women in the workplace. Japan is emphasizing the problem of plastic litter in the world’s oceans and seas.

Several nations also hope to place a strong emphasis on collective action against climate change, a subject that may become a political flash point. This week, Macron called an affirmation of the 2015 Paris climate agreement a “red line” for drawing his signature on any joint statement. But Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and declared that the United States would withdraw from the Paris accord.

What is Trump expected to do?
The main event for Trump will be his meeting with Xi, scheduled for Saturday morning. They last met in Buenos Aires in December, at the previous G-20 summit.

Economic and trade disputes between Washington and Beijing have led to the mutual imposition of tariffs, and Trump and Xi will see whether they can renew negotiations on a trade deal that broke down last month, rattling world markets.

In official meetings to set a G-20 agenda for the coming year, Trump is expected to continue pressing his “America First” agenda. While the G-20 is a forum for international cooperation and reducing trade barriers, Trump has seized on stiff tariffs as a favored cudgel against trading partners.

Last year, pressure from Trump helped force the inclusion of language declaring an “urgent” need to overhaul the World Trade Organization, an implicit concession to his complaints that other countries take advantage of the United States in global trade.

Trump is also expected to have notable sit-downs with other leaders. Among them is the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, who has been widely accused of authorizing the 2018 murder of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, an allegation Trump has dismissed.

When Trump sees Putin on Friday, it will be the first meeting between the two men since the special counsel, Robert Mueller, released his report on Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

©2019 New York Times News Service

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