A bridgehead for bloggers

Today’s summit marks the first time that bloggers have been included as fully accredited members of the press at a heads’ level summit meeting – in their own right, that is, rather than because they persuaded a newspaper to accredit them (which remains the route that a lot of NGO campaigners have to follow).

Another first from today: during the Chairman’s press conference, Gordon Brown called on one of the G20 Voice bloggers, Richard Murphy, to ask one of the questions: the first time a blogger has ever asked a question at a heads’ level summit press conference.  (Newsnight have already booked him for an interview for tonight.)

The organisers of G20 Voice are ebullient, and they should be. As Tom Watson (who took the day off from being a minister of state at the Cabinet Office in order to sit here and blog with us) told me earlier, this is the result of a small group of quietly determined people focusing very hard in the run-up to the summit on the objective of establishing the blogosphere’s right to representation at such events.  It looks a lot like they’ve pulled it off.  Hats off to them.

Outcomes: a first cut

So: the outcome.  Here’s the communique – and three thoughts from me.

First, the biggest winner from today is the IMF. This is an organisation which looked like it might go bust just a couple of months ago; now, its funds have been trebled to $750bn, much higher than the $500bn that David Miliband was touting last week.

But the IMF’s win isn’t just financial; it’s existential.  At the beginning of last year, it was set to lose a sixth of its staff.  People were openly wondering what is was for.  And now?  The G20 has just issued a clear, ringing, and very public, declaration of its continuing centrality to global governance.

Here’s my hesitation, though.  If the declaration of faith in the IMF is clear, the path towards reforming it is much less so.  The communique calls on the IMF to complete the next review of quota votes by 2011, but says nothing about the principles that should underpin this review. It includes the traditional call for “greater voice and representation for poor countries”, but doesn’t get into specifics.  As Oxfam have put it, the IMF’s back, it’s big and it’s bad.  Whether it’s reformed is another question.

Second, the movement on tax havens is actually pretty significant.  The communique says that “the era of banking secrecy is over”, and actually, it might be right.  We’re told to expect a list of tax havens, broken down into ‘white’, ‘grey’ and ‘black’ – and Stephen Timms, a junior UK Treasury minister, briefed this morning that he expects sanctions against countries that don’t sign up to the required disclosure standards.

For development advocates, tax havens have long been a massive bugbear.  Back when I was working a DFID at the time of its 3rd White Paper in 2006, tax havens were already starting to be recognised as one of the most critical policy coherence issues in development – but it was clear there was no chance of getting reform of them onto the global agenda.  A lot can change in three years…

Third, a big disappointment: climate change.  I blogged earlier that not much was expected on this, and so it has proved. On green new deals, in particular, the lack of numbers is a very major omission.

State of play at lunchtime

OK, just had chats with a couple of senior UK officials, and here’s where things are at inside the negotiations:

– Lots of discussion about SDRs and IMF finance.  It looks like we’re heading towards a $250bn SDR issue as part of a larger package on IMF financing; things look hopeful for getting beyond the important $500bn level.  Germany has apparently been a bit difficult over the SDRs issue – they’re keen on applying a lot of conditionality.  The SDR discussions were also complicated by China’s recent suggestion of ending the dollar’s role as global reserve currency, and using SDRs instead – this made the US somewhat suspicious of SDRs in general.

– A big fight is underway on tax havens. Sarkozy’s going in hard for tough language, but China is against as it’s worried about the effect on Hong Kong and Macao.  Gordon Brown is looking for a compromise on that right now at the lunch.  The Czech Presidency has been ‘unhelpful’.

– On trade finance, there are hopes for a pretty good package, which would then be presented as a key outcome for low income countries.

– But it looks like today’s big disappointment will be on climate change and green new deals.  Both sources told me that there will be no numbers at all on green new deals, either in terms of percentages of stimulus packages, or overall dollar totals.  Worse, there are real struggles underway on keeping language about Copenhagen in the communique at all.  The issue here is apparently largely with China – which is reportedly worried about linking climate and the G20 process, on the basis that this would provide Congress with another platform for protectionism. Right now, all language on “greening”, “low-carbon” and “Copenhagen” is out of the communique, at China’s request.

That’s it for now.  As ever, apply a discount rate to all this: this is about the time you’d expect host government officials to be lowering expectations, so that they can pull a rabbit out of the hat in about an hour’s time…

The other crunch: food prices

Although the food price crisis has slipped from the agenda as the credit crunch has gathered pace, for poor people around the world it hasn’t gone away – and may now be set to worsen again. 

While the FAO’s food price index has fallen by around 30% since its peak last summer, that only takes it back to May 2007 levels: still well above recent norms.  Meanwhile, the global total of undernourished people is now over a billion, up from 850m just a couple of years ago. Now, FAO officials say privately that they expect the next findings from the index to show a new increase. 

If that’s right, then we’re really moving in to worst case scenario for developing countries, who are already reeling from the credit crunch. So what’s happening here at the London Summit on this front?

I asked that to Douglas Alexander, the UK’s international development secretary, in a press conference he did an hour or so ago.  He pointed to the £200m the UK has committed to a new ‘rapid response social fund’ to provide safety nets for the most vulnerable people, and applauded the work of the World Bank and WFP in particular. On increasing supply, meanwhile, he suggested that infrastructure investment is crucial (which it is).

I also caught up with Peter Mandelson, the UK’s business secretary, and asked him how the trade system could be proofed against the kind of crazy security of supply perturbations that caused such problems last summer, when over 30 countries had export restrictions in place. He stressed that what’s needed is to keep markets open, and that any impediments to this would harm supply by undermining incentives.

In analytical terms, I can’t fault anything either of them said. But note the lack of specifics about what this summit should be doing: there’s no getting round the underlying fact that preventing a resumption of the food price spike isn’t on the agenda here.  It should be.  As a senior IMF official put it to David and I when we were over in DC recently: “the last thing we can afford now is another crisis creeping up on us”.

Leaders chill out

Alex Barker at the FT’s Westminster blog:

This is my first dispatch from the G20 media hangar, which has so far proved to be full of journalists and free of information. But Britain’s intrepid press pack have succeeded in digging up one important story: the “minty green” colour of the “lounge area”.

We’re told that the world’s leaders will be plotting the course for economic recovery from a modern, functional, informal “break out zone”. There are comfortable chairs and tables, but “no bean bags”, according to one well informed source.

Leaders left breakfast a short while ago (the menu remains top secret) and are now “milling around”, chewing the fat and bargaining over the world’s future. Here’s to hoping the coffee is better than it is in the press area.

Actually, an informal ‘break out zone’ is probably a good idea.  Watching the TV feed of the formal summit room a couple of minutes ago, I couldn’t help wondering how any kind of shared awareness could emerge from such stilted surroundings…

Unexploded bombs, and other G20 excitment

So here I am in the cavernous media centre at the London Summit.  Some of the main excitement of the day so far: (a) the police found an unexploded World War Two bomb sunk in the dock next to the Excel centre, and will be detonating it shortly; and (b) there are free bacon sandwiches.

Plus, it turns out that one of the other G20 voice bloggers is Daniel Kaufmann – now at the Brookings Institution, before that at the World Bank.  He’s one of the top governance experts in the world (the FT’s words), and was one of the World Bank staffers who really put pressure on Paul Wolfowitz during the 2007 graft kerfuffle – if you recall the letter that he and other Bank staff sent to Wolfowitz, it read

The credibility of our front-line staff is eroding in the face of legitimate questions from our clients about the Bank’s ability to practise what it preaches on governance.  In these circumstances, we cannot credibly implement the governance and anti-corruption strategy.”

Hats off for that.  Next up: bloggers’ press conference wit Douglas Alexander coming up shortly.