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Summit Report I: The Progressive Governance Summit, London, 4-5 April 2008

by David Hetherington, Executive Director, Per Capita

It’s not often you get 13 heads of government in a room with the bosses of the WTO, the IMF and African Development Bank, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the EU foreign policy chief, and one Bill Clinton thrown in for good measure. So it makes for an interesting discussion when you do.

The Progressive Governance Summit outside London on 4-5 April brought progressive leaders together from all around the globe to discuss the challenge of promoting prosperity through an inclusive globalisation. The Summit was organised by 10 Downing Street, which invited Per Capita to attend, and preceded by a larger conference organised by Policy Network.

The pressing issues at the table were, unsurprisingly, the global credit crisis, food prices, climate change, and the Doha trade round.

The financial crisis was front of mind for many leaders. Bill Clinton reported that the collapse of the mortgage market is hurting millions of real Americans, not just Wall Street barons. President Kufour of Ghana explained that since his country is reliant on US dollar trade, the declining dollar means that his compatriots are being buffeted by forces beyond their control which they do not understand. Ominously, Dominique Strauss-Kahn of the IMF reported that the upcoming IMF outlook on global growth remained poor.

Gordon Brown suggested that the international financial architecture in its current form was not fit-for-purpose, and outlined a proposal for a ‘New Global New Deal’ in which rich countries sponsor health and education in the developing world. Conversational in style and relaxed in poise, his presentation was outstanding. As The Economist described, “his theme – one about which he has thought deeply and feels passionately – was the need to reform global institutions to meet 21st century challenges of climate change, migration, failed states, an so on. He talked cogently and impressively, wowing his audience of international politicians and policy experts with his intellect and even his wit.” Hardly the dour Scot of reputation.

Antonio Guterres, the UN HCR, reported on recent violence associated with food price inflation and his concerns were echoed by voices as diverse as Norway PM’s Jens Stoltenberg and Donald Kaberuka of the African Development Bank. The design of the biofuels market was identified as a particular target for reform.

Climate change loomed large as expected. Helen Clark outlined the details of New Zealand’s 90% renewable energy target which was praised as “inspirational” by fellow leaders. Kevin Rudd identified demand reductions through efficiency gains and carbon capture through reforestation as “the low hanging-fruit” of the carbon debate.

The EU trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, offered a stark assessment of the progress of the Doha round trade negotiations. He confirmed that negotiations were proceeding night and day in Geneva, and that the next few weeks were critical. He said that any deal necessarily required 8-9 months of subsequent legislative work and that if this were not completed by January 2009, the change of administration in the US and also at the EU Commission would wipe out most of 2009. Returning to the table in 2010 would be difficult.

Chilean President Michele Bachelet affirmed the importance of openness for developing markets with small domestic markets. She pointed out Chile’s success in experimenting with unorthodox approached and managing power asymmetries between trading partners.

By the end of the event, our Mr Rudd had certainly proven himself a star of the show. Numerous delegates approached us to say how impressed they were by the new leader, and the host Brown paid Rudd the compliment of asking him to chair one of the two plenary sessions. The new PM was lauded in editorials in The Independent, The Times and The Guardian.

Humour was the one area where Rudd was upstaged, of all people, by the New Zealand PM. At one stage, Brown deferred to Rudd on a tricky question on climate change. Rudd begins, “The Americans describe that as a curve ball, but in Australia we know it as a hospital pass.” With impeccable timing, Helen Clark chimes in, “In New Zealand, we call it underarm bowling.” Ouch.