Business leaders from the world’s leading economies are set to press for firm action on growth, trade and social issues at this week’s G20 summit in France, warning of the dangers of political disaffection.
“This G20 is really important because of the [eurozone] debt crisis, but also because in most countries we see some very worrying political trends,” said Laurence Parisot, head of Medef, the French business confederation that will host a “B20” of top business people in Cannes to coincide with the meeting of G20 heads of government in the Mediterranean resort.
Ms Parisot cited the rising strength of far-right parties in countries such as France, the emergence of the Tea Party movement in the US and the spread of protests around western economies such as the Indignants and Occupy Wall Street demonstrations over issues from faltering growth and unemployment to bankers’ pay and inequality.
“It is very dangerous for business, for the economy and for democracy … if all these countries are not able, with business, to find a common way,” Ms Parisot told the Financial Times.
The B20 has sought to become an integral part of the G20 process and has had two meetings with the “sherpas” – the government officials who prepare the summit agenda – in the run-up to Cannes.
“[The B20 is] trying to have a common position on all the items on the G20 agenda, which might help governments to move forward on these difficult issues,” Ms Parisot said.
It is pushing for effective action on the central issue of flagging global growth, framing concrete commitments from individual countries to address structural imbalances between big surplus countries such as China and Germany on the one hand and deficit nations such as the US and many European states on the other.
It is set to express most frustration over the long-stalled, so-called Doha round of international trade liberalisation talks. “Trade is very important to growth and yet we see protectionism increasing,” Ms Parisot said. “We don’t understand because governments are always ready to make clear statements against protectionism and then through the back door they take measures that are actually protectionist.”
Social protection and employment were also big concerns. She said the B20 would meet at Cannes with the L20, its trade union counterpart, to discuss social issues.
“This is not the easiest part … among business people some are quite reluctant to go too far on social issues but on the other hand everyone agrees that there is a big issue today about inequality.”
The B20 is organised by national business confederations, the International Chamber of Commerce and the World Economic Forum, bringing together chief executives and other senior officials from banking and industry from all the G20 countries.
A B20 delegation will see Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, on Wednesday – the eve of the G20 – to press its case. Leaders scheduled to appear at its parallel conference include Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s president; Dmitry Medvedev, president of Russia; Jacob Zuma, South African president; and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey.