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Argentina’s upcoming challenge: defining the G20 agenda

The government needs to carefully manage its own national agenda and balance it against the wishes of the international community. And it should look to obtain the support of the opposition as it develops the agenda for the important global summit, which takes place in Buenos Aires next year.

Wednesday 15 November, 2017
President Mauricio Macri checks papers before the before the start of the G20 summit’s third working session in Germany earlier this year.
President Mauricio Macri checks papers before the before the start of the G20 summit’s third working session in Germany earlier this year. Foto:Bundesregierung/Güngör

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Responsibility breeds legitimacy, and legitimacy builds influence. And for Argentina, there is a great opportunity on all these fronts on the horizon.

The responsibility that Argentina will take on in 2018 as chair of the G20 – which includes organising the summit and defining its agenda – is a magnificent opportunity to expand its influence across the world and enhance the impact of its foreign policy.

The large number of member countries in the group and the diversity of potential topics on the table underline the complexity of the G20. Established powers (the United States, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Canada and Japan) interact with emerging forces (China, India, Russia) and medium powers like Argentina, Brazil, México, Australia, South Africa, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and South Korea. President Mauricio Macri’s government will have the chance to set and define the agenda for all these nations.

Although initially the G20 focused on economic and financial cooperation, the group also now deals with the issue of sustainable development. That means incorporating a variety of complex topics – including climate change, food security, health diseases, the fight against corruption and the role of women in the world – into the agenda.

In building the G20’s programme, Argentina’s coordinators and negotiators will in fact manage two parallel agendas – an Argentine one, and another that reflects the outcomes of past summits. In some ways, the process of crafting the G20’s agenda for the 2018 summit in Buenos Aires brings to mind an art exhibition created by artist Tomás Saraceno, which was recently on display at the Museo de Arte Moderno in the capital, where hundreds of spiders have worked together to create a monumental spider web. In the case of the G20, we can verify two thematic "webs" that are being woven in parallel fashion: the local one, and the international one. The challenge for the government here will be to identify areas of convergence between both.

The Argentine agenda will highlight the themes the government wishes to advance. This is a considerable challenge for our different ministries, which must make relevant and differentiated contributions, with each likely to push its own key points. It also provides ample opportunity for collaboration with Argentine think tanks. Two such prestigious organisations, CARI and CIPPEC, will seek to offer their own points of view from their areas of expertise. They will also have to coordinate the ‘T20’ working group – a group of think tanks from G20 member states. The business community likewise will have an opportunity to contribute through the ‘B20’ or ‘Business 20’ working group. In managing the local agenda, the Foreign Ministry should avoid – using its knowledge of the social-political contexts of the different member states – proposing topics or themes that will be rejected outright by some member nations.

To advance with the crafting of the G20 programme implies identifying areas of agreement, but it also means managing differences. To achieve this, Argentina will work as part of a troika that guides the Group of 20, together with the previous year’s host, Germany, and the upcoming host, Japan. Although the G20’s international agenda reflects elements of continuity with respect to past meetings, it is vital to continue identifying new areas of agreements. These will later be reflected in the actions of the member countries in other international groupings that deal with more specific topics, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Climate Change conference (COP), and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Managing differences is crucial, if the summit is to be a success. The Argentine team will have to understand and foresee which concessions the member countries are willing to make in each area and which are their "red lines." Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, writing about the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), once said that international agreements tend to reflect "not the absence of unsatisfied claims, but the absence of a grievance of such magnitude that redress will be sought in overturning the settlement rather than through an adjustment within its framework." The same must apply to the G20.

Effective management of both agendas – the Argentine and the international tracts – should lead to relevant plans that can be implemented. In this way, discussions on critical topics – such as the future of employment, or the importance of building infrastructure for development – should translate into specific and realistic plans of action. 

In developing the G20’s agenda, the government should also seek to obtain the support of the opposition or, at the very least, try to avoid open expressions of rejection by their opponents. It is crucial the government explain why a successful G20 will be a victory for the entire Argentine political system. Therefore, Argentina’s sherpa Pedro Villagra Delgado, Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie and President Mauricio Macri would be wise to avoid types of behaviour that undermine the creation of consensus in foreign policy. In the view of Brazilian diplomat Ruben Ricúpero these would "give our foreign policy the characteristics of a partisan nature," and would "exclude, rather than include, efforts of collaboration." 

With the summit creeping closer by the week, successfully crafting the G20’s agenda in an intelligent and inclusive way will allow our country to present itself as a thoughtful and constructive nation, increasing its prestige – and its impact.

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