G20 Leaders’ Declaration, 22 November 2020



Terence P. Stewart | Current Thoughts on Trade

The two day Leaders’ Summit of the G20, chaired in 2020 by Saudi Arabia, ended yesterday with the issuance of a Leaders’ Declaration. https://g20.org/en/media/Documents/G20%20Riyadh%20Summit%20Leaders%20Declaration_EN.pdf. The twelve page document is embedded below.

G20 Riyadh Summit Leaders Declaration_EN

Yesterday, I had put up a post that looked at the WTO’s Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff’s statement to the G20 on important measures needed in the trade arena to help with responding to the global health pandemic, economic recovery and WTO reform. See November 22, 2020, DDG Wolff’s comments to G20 on immediate challenges for trade to address economic rebound from the pandemic and for WTO reform, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/22/ddg-wolffs-comments-to-g20-on-immediate-challenges-for-trade-to-address-economic-rebound-from-the-pandemic-and-for-wto-reform/. The activities of the G20 are far broader than simply the trade issues reviewed in yesterday’s post and much of the Declaration looks at various aspects of addressing recovery from the pandemic, including access to vaccines and therapeutics. However, on the trade agenda in particular identified by DDG Wolff, the G20 does not appear to have addressed the issue of trade finance for developing and least developed countries, did not call for creating duty free treatment for all pharmaceuticals and medical goods relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while supportive of WTO reform did not provide specifics or a sense of time urgency. The Declaration contains 38 paragraphs broken in four sections. Many deal with topics that are being examined in part at the WTO (e.g., digital trade) or that may be going forward (e.g., environment, climate change). There was only one paragraph on trade and investment (para. 12) (under section “B. Building a Resilient and Long-Lasting Recovery”). The paragraph reads as follows:

“12. Trade and Investment: Supporting the multilateral trading system is now as important as ever. We strive to realize the goal of a free, fair, inclusive, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable, and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open. We will continue to work to ensure a level playing field to foster an enabling business environment. We endorse the G20 Actions to Support World Trade and Investment in Response to COVID-19. We recognize the contribution that the Riyadh Initiative on the Future of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has made by providing an additional opportunity to discuss and reaffirm the objectives and foundational principles of the multilateral trading system as well as to demonstrate our ongoing political support for the necessary reform of the WTO, including in the lead up to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference. We recognize the need to increase the sustainability and resilience of national, regional, and global supply chains that foster the sustainable integration of developing and least developed countries into the trading system, and share the objective of promoting inclusive economic growth including through increased participation of micro-, small-, medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in international trade and investment. We note that structural problems in some sectors, such as excess capacities, can cause a negative impact.”

The G20 Declaration in paragraph 3 provides a statement indicating G20 members “will spare no effort to ensure * * * affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members’ commitments to incentivize innovation,” to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. The paragraph refers to the efforts of the “Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) initiative and its COVAX facility,” and commits G20 members “to addressing the remaining global financing needs.” While obviously encouraging, the financing needs that remain are large both for vaccines and for testing and treatment. Total additional funding needs approach $40 billion. See Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel ahead of the G20 Summit, Brussels, 20 November 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_20_2170. Such contributions are voluntary and substantially exceed what has been pledged or received to date. So time will tell whether G20 countries actually fulfil the general commitment included in yesterday’s declaration.

The New York Times in an article on November 22 headlined “G20 Summit Closes With Little Progress and Big Gaps Between Trump and Allies,” describes the large number of topics where the current U.S. Administration has been at odds with many of the other G20 leaders and the resulting challenges to meaningful joint action as opposed to “general appeals for more global cooperation” and for “affordable and equitable access” to vaccines and therapeutics. New York Times, Nov. 22, 2020, G20 Summit Closes With Little Progress and Big Gaps Between Trump and Allies, a https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/22/us/politics/g20-summit-trump.html. While the Trump Administration undoubtedly has contributed to the lack of greater specifics in the Declaration, there are undoubtedly strong differences among different G20 members on what commitments should be undertaken that involve G20 members specifically.


The G20 process has been important over the last decade or so in mobilizing the world’s leading nations to provide leadership to address global challenges. The success of the group’s efforts depends on leadership of the majors and a common understanding of the challenges at hand. There are structural challenges in the current G20 configuration with different economic models and different levels of economic development providing points of conflict as well as points of expanded understanding of global needs. The challenges have been exacerbated by the concerns of the current U.S. Administration with multilateral organizations and with whether climate change is an actual problem.

With the current internal friction points, the G20 has nonetheless put forward a largely united front in seeking to meet the challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shocks through collaboration and to seek to rebuild more sustainably and more inclusively. The lack of specifics in some areas may be better addressed under a new U.S. Administration’s participation with the expected closer ties the Biden Administration will have with at least many of the G20 members.

In the trade arena, the conflicts within the WTO are not likely to go away with a new U.S. Administration. That doesn’t mean that U.S. leadership couldn’t permit rapid movement on a number of issues that would be helpful in addressing the pandemic and the global economic recovery. But WTO reform and even singular issues like updated coverage by the Pharmaceutical Agreement or the elimination of tariffs on medical goods unfortunately are likely to take way too long to be helpful in the current pandemic. That leaves voluntary actions by countries in their own interest as the likely option most likely to provide some improved market access during the pandemic.

Terence Stewart, former Managing Partner, Law Offices of Stewart and Stewart, and author of the blog, Current Thoughts on Trade.

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