The G-20s sherpas are meeting in London,and they have the tallest mountain in the G-20s history to climb. The sherpas,the term for the senior bureaucrats that serve as assistants to the world leaders attending the main G-20,or summiteers,typically meet a few weeks in advance to help set the agenda. Many ideas have come out of these meetings in the past,but rarely has the demand for those ideas been as potent as it is today. And never before has the need for unity,or at any rate co-ordination,in a naturally faction-ridden organisation been so central.
A pity then that the EU and the US cant seem to agree on the basics. The Americans and the British correctly point out that stimulus plans need to be coordinated in terms of time to be effective so,if theyre pouring money into their economies,the rest of the big economies should as well. Europe agrees to this on principle,but then points out that,first,the Americans should have asked about timing before they went ahead with a unilateral plan; and second,that raising spending without checking the lax financial standards and shadow banking systems that took everyones money in the first place might be throwing good money after bad. And the Anglo-American solidarity isnt that solid,either: the Obama administration doesnt quite share Gordon Browns crusading zeal against offshore tax havens,for example.
And what of India,at this point? The prime ministers chosen sherpa,Montek Singh Ahluwalia,will have several points to make,and hell have to make them often,and forcefully,to be heard over the din. The most important is to
ensure that developed world governments dont turn inwards. Weve begun to see signs of that instinct,most notably in the US. Not only was the stimulus bill back-door protectionist,but the US Congresss recent move on similar lines to deny funding to a World Bank project that funds cleaner coal plants in countries like India is unacceptable. Ahluwalia needs to
remind the rest of the G-20 what India has repeatedly emphasised,that global recession needs global solutions,and that nothing must slow the engine of recovery: fast-growing emerging economies.