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Backgrounder: Washington G20 Summit

2008-11-15 15:46:53 GMT2008-11-15 23:46:53 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15 (Xinhua) -- The two-day G20 financial summit kicked off here on Saturday where leaders from the 20 richest and emerging economies gathered to diagnose the current financial crisis and make prescriptions.

The G20, an informal arena to facilitate dialogue between major industrial and emerging-market countries on key issues related to global economic stability, was founded on Sept. 25, 1999 in Washington.

It serves as an international forum of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 countries -- Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the United States, the European Union and the Bretton Woods Institutions, namely the International Monetary Fund(IMF) and the World Bank.

The group accounts for 85 percent to 90 percent of the world's total economy and about two-thirds of the world's population.

It is the first time for the G20, which usually brought together finance ministers and central bank chiefs at annual meetings, to hold a head-of-state meeting in view of the worst economic crisis since 1930s.

Talks about the special summit in the international arena started this fall when G7 and G20 finance ministers met in early October, exploring a solution to plummeting stock prices, collapsing banks and motionless credit.

However, it was not decided that the summit should be held in the U.S. in November until French President Nicolas Sarkozy met his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush on Oct. 18.

Despite a UN offer to play host, the United States announced on Oct. 22 that the meeting would take place in Washington on Nov. 15,with a dinner reception on Nov. 14 at the White House.

The United States also announced that apart from the G20 leaders, the IMF managing director, the World Bank president, the UN secretary general, and chairman of the Financial Stability Forum (FSF) were also invited to the summit.

The meeting is called the "Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy," taking the current financial crisis and sagging global economy as its main theme.

The participants are expected to review countries' responses to the recent financial crisis, diagnose the root causes of the crisis and seek consensus on a set of principles for reforming regulatory and institutional regimes in the global financial arena.

Although some predict that the meeting will be a "Bretton Woods II," senior financial officials including IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Khan have cautioned that it is unlikely such drastic reforms will result from this meeting.

"What is important now is that the discussions do not simply lead to an empty communique, but to meaningful progress in making globalization work," said former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin in a G20 research group report.

"This is the beginning of a new era in which rising great powers are not invited for lunch and then dismissed," he said. "It is the beginning of an era where true dialogue between indispensable nations occurs as they seek to reconcile their differences so that the world may progress."

The summit carries different expectations by different parties. The United States has indicated that it expects the meeting as the first step in a process that can lay the ground for future actions, while the European countries, led by France, deem the summit should take quick and necessary actions to produce real results.

However, many African countries and civil society organizations have complained that undeveloped countries are under-represented at the meeting.

The U.S. influence on the summit was also put in question since its government is currently in transition. The U.S. president-elect Barack Obama has made clear that he would not attend the meeting or meet with any G20 leaders, but only sent two representatives to the summit.

The summit is also expected to serve as a stage for bilateral talks since a number of bilateral meetings have been scheduled before and after the summit that will likely feed into the process.

Before the summit, talks have already started about the second summit that could happen sometime between next February and April in Paris. But any further gatherings have to be worked out by working groups based on the principles yielded by the current one.

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