News and Information

G7: ambitious or overblown?
February 4, 2005

By Evan Davis
BBC economics editor

The G7 meeting is promoting a rousing agenda

The red carpet rolls out, and the long-awaited London premier of the G7 extravaganza opens at last, with finance ministers gathering today.

Surely, it's the hottest ticket in town?

True, the US is unfortunately sending along an understudy - Treasury Secretary John Snow has a cold and is staying at home. But nevertheless, the show is bound to be a hit.

Yet what exactly is the G7 finance ministers meeting?

It's probably best to think of it as being like a rather obscure Ibsen play, though the fanfare around it this time is making it seem like a new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

So a meeting that normally struggles to get off the business pages of the newspapers is suddenly a prime-time event.

There are demonstrations about world poverty, Nelson Mandela is in town, and some non-G7 countries have been invited along. And Gordon Brown is pushing his plan to help Africa.

Competing agendas

But it means that in this one G7 finance ministers meeting, there are two competing agendas.

There is one about world poverty, which will fight its way onto the table, and probably some progress will be hailed.

Mr Brown's G7 theme is solving poverty in Africa

And there is another G7 agenda - a more workaday one, concerned less with the big issue of changing the world, and more with changing the currency markets. This is the familiar staple of finance ministerial gatherings.

While the crowds outside talk about debt, fair trade and aid, the issue in the front of the finance ministers' minds right now is more likely to be the dollar, and the Chinese currency, the yuan.

The dollar is uncomfortably low for the Europeans, and the yuan is uncomfortably low for pretty well everybody.

The G7 ministers can vent their frustrations and desires, argue about who is to blame for the global imbalances - is it the Americans importing too much, or the Chinese exporting too much? China has been invited along this time to hear the G7's views.

High expectations

But this meeting has a particular problem; whichever agenda you look at, expectations are too high. Whether it is the currency markets watching for a communique that might move markets, or the demonstrators outside wanting to Make Poverty History, the G7 finance ministers will struggle to deliver.

China's central bank governor can expect to hear plenty of complaints

On currencies, the G7 doesn't have the power to determine China's exchange rate policy, which is what it ideally wants to do.

And on poverty, there is no common G7 view on how to "make it history", so the meeting ultimately won't solve that.

So while it's the hottest ticket in town for the weekend, the audience may find itself curiously unfulfilled.

Fortunately, the G7 show has just begun - there are three more finance ministers meetings this year to pick up where this one stops.


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