The B20 in Turbulent Times

The consensus for open, rules-based world markets is eroding; international organisations like the WTO are under fire. That’s why it is all the more important that business has a strong voice, according to foreign economic policy expert Stormy-Annika Mildner. She emphasizes that the role of the Business 20 (B20) is more important today than ever.

What is the role of the B20?

Since 2010, the Business 20 (B20) has been the official G20 dialogue with the global business community. The mission of the B20 is to support the G20 through consolidated representation of interests, expertise, and concrete policy proposals. The leadership rotates every year together with the G20 presidency. 2016/17 the leading German business federations – the BDI, the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA), and the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) – were responsible for the organisation of the German B20. From industry to the finance sector, from small to big companies – the B20 speaks with one voice for the business community of the G20 countries. More than 700 representatives of companies and federations take part in the B20 each year. Its recommendations are agreed on by consensus among the B20 members. 

What are the topics on the B20 agenda?

The topics discussed in each B20 cycle are both determined by the interests of the G20 business community and the topics on the G20 agenda. Alongside the familiar areas in which the G20 is always active – such as the global economy, trade and international financial – each G20 Presidency sets its own priorities. The Saudi Arabian G20 Presidency, for example, has empowerment of people and protection of the planet at the top of the agenda.

Can the B20 achieve anything?

The need for political action in the traditional B20 areas of trade, investment, and financial markets is enormous. That said, there is also huge pressure to act on new issues such as digitisation, climate change, and health care. How difficult it is to reach consensus on these issues was evident at the G20 summit in Hamburg in early July 2017.

For this reason, the fact that business representatives from throughout the G20 engage in regular exchanges, consolidate their interests and promote joint positions has value in and of itself. This is how the B20 contributes to understanding and trust in the international community. Often it is only through such intensive exchanges that we realise our interests and goals are more similar than we thought. For the G20, it is important to have a consolidated business position rather than a cacophony of voices from individual countries. Moreover, the G20 depends on the knowledge and practical experience of business to identify the most promising policy options.

Most recommendations of the B20 are reflected in the decision-making of the G20. Furthermore, B20 recommendations are often explicitly mentioned in G20 communiqués. We have the impression that the B20 contributed, for example, to the G20’s current focus on digital trade as well as small and medium-sized enterprises, among many other topics.

Do sparks sometimes fly in the B20?

The work of the B20 culminates in the B20 summit. It is at this venue that the B20 presents its declarations to the G20. Up to that point, the B20 works under enormous pressure to develop concrete policy recommendations on the various G20 topics.

It goes without saying that – just like in the G20 – negotiations are sometimes difficult and discussions heated. This is a good thing because the B20 is supposed to contribute to identifying common as well as diverging interests, on the one hand, and come up with creative solutions and compromises, on the other. However, discussions are always conducted in an amiable manner. After all, we share the same goals: sustainable, inclusive and dynamic growth in a world that is becoming more and more integrated.

Does the world really need the G20?

If the G20 did not exist today, it would have to be invented. From rampant protectionism to pandemics and climate change – the global economy is facing a multitude of challenges. No government alone can tackle these challenges. The G20 plays an important role in shaping the agenda of international economic and regulatory policy. The G20 helps further develop the rules for the global economy. It is true that the G20 has no permanent secretariat like those of the International Monetary Fund or the World Trade Organisation and, in contrast to those two organisations, cannot take decisions that are binding under international law. Nonetheless, it has shown in times of crisis that it has the necessary flexibility to establish guiding principles for global regulatory policy precisely because it is not dependent on rigid structures.

What would you like to see the Saudi Arabian B20 achieve?

After the first event of the Saudi B20 Presidency, I am optimistic that the B20 will again contribute to the order of the global economy through the development of concrete, implementable recommendations for the G20. Accordingly, it should not shy away from the difficult issues. At present, this includes first and foremost trade, international climate policy, and digitisation. The efficacy of the B20 depends, in addition to its recommendations, to a large part on the process: co-determination of members, representativeness, and transparency. Under the German Presidency, the B20 undertook a series of reforms in this regard and significantly strengthened cooperation between the G20 engagement partners, something that I would like to see the Saudi Arabian B20 continue. I am already looking forward to the coming cooperation in the B20 Trade Task Force and Women in Business Action Council.

Stormy-Annika Mildner has headed the Department for Foreign Economic Policy at the BDI since 2014. She was Sherpa for B20 Germany in 2016–17.