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Summits must deliver more than big talk.
As leaders of the world’s richest nations, we have to make good on our promise to fix the global economy.
This will be my first major international summit as Prime Minister - and I’m delighted it’s here in Canada, because while I’m the new kid on the block, I know I have an old friend in Stephen Harper. Britain, too, has a great friend in Canada. Beyond the historical ties, our relationship thrives today on shared values and a faith in free institutions, free markets and free societies.
I come to the G8 and G20 in Muskoka and Toronto with a clear commitment to make sure these summits deliver for people. Too often, these international meetings fail to live up to the hype and the promises made. I’m sure other leaders would admit that. A lot of money is spent laying them on. Host cities are disrupted for days or even weeks. The cavalcades roll into town. Good intentions are shared in productive talks. Then, somehow, those intentions rarely seem to come to fruition in real, tangible global action. When we meet again a year later, we find things haven’t really moved on.
So the challenge for the upcoming G8 and G20 is to be more than just grand talking shops. The preparations that Prime Minister Harper has led have been thorough: the right first step and I pay tribute to him and his team.
Now, I believe that if we want to make a difference, we need a tight focus on what we actually want to achieve, with leaders - including me - being willing to be held to account and made to live up to our promises. We need to show people that we can get real results - by concentrating on key priorities and then driving them through relentlessly, year after year.
At this weekend’s summits, no one can doubt the biggest promise we have to deliver: fixing the global economy. The question is how we will deliver. Of course, there must be the flexibility for countries to act, taking account of their own national circumstances.
But I believe we must each start by setting out plans for getting our national finances under control. Canada knows just how important this is - in the 1990s, you underwent a tough and successful program of spending cuts to get your debt down and economy back on track.
In Britain this week, we showed how we will start to live within our means again. Like you, we have had to make some unpopular - but unavoidable - decisions on tax and spending. But like you, too, we know it’s essential to restore confidence and growth to our economy. It’s an approach that the entire G20 now recognizes is crucial to revitalize our economies.
Next, we must see through our pledges to fix the world’s financial system. The failures of the banks imposed a huge cost on the rest of society. And indeed, the survival of many financial institutions - big and small - owes almost everything to taxpayers in our countries. So I believe that it’s fair they should repay that debt through a new levy. There will be one in force in Britain from January.
Other countries, including France and Germany, are introducing similar ones - although this approach won’t necessarily be for everyone. I’m convinced that we need to move faster on strengthening capital and liquidity in our banks - so that they can fix their own problems without the taxpayer bearing the cost. This weekend, I will work with other G8 and G20 leaders to push for agreement.
Third, we must continue to press for the real stimulus that our economies need: trade. Trade is the greatest wealth-creator ever known. It has lifted billions out of poverty. It enables people in Muskoka to make money in Mumbai - and vice versa. It spreads knowledge, ideas and products - and ultimately improves our quality of life. The G20 can be proud of the way it prevented a retreat into protectionism during the global recession.
But that is only part of the story. The job is far from complete. For sustainable, balanced growth, we have simply got to deliver free, fair and open global trade. That is what I will work tirelessly for, not just this weekend but in the weeks, months and years ahead.
There are some immediate and relatively simple steps we can take to boost trade by cutting the red tape that so often stifles it. It shouldn’t need endless rounds of negotiation, just political will. In some countries, for example, a simple transaction can turn into a bureaucratic nightmare - involving up to 30 parties and 40 forms to fill in. Streamlining customs red tape could save so much time and money. The same goes for reducing congestion at ports and improving transport infrastructure.
Don’t underestimate the difference these changes could make. When a UK-funded “one stop border” post replaced entry and exit checks between Zambia and Zimbabwe a few months ago, waiting times for truckers dropped from three days to three hours. And I’m announcing today that we are now supporting eight new posts across Africa as part of a wider push by the UK to help spur trade between developing countries. According to the World Bank, making trade easier across the world could increase global trade flows by around $377 billion (US) - compared to $336-billion from completing the Doha Round.
That’s not to say that we should forget about Doha. Far from it. If we could get a global agreement on trade, the world economy would grow by $170 billion. But I’m realistic. Delivering progress on Doha will not be easy. However, I’m also impatient for change and people in Britain, Canada, Asia, Africa and elsewhere can’t wait for negotiators to come to agreement.
World leaders have made previous commitments on Doha in good faith - but despite almost a decade of talks, there’s been no breakthrough. I believe that if we are now to travel that final mile, we need fresh thinking and renewed political leadership. We must all put more on the table. This could include looking again at areas such as countries opening their services sector to foreign companies. Or we could consider whether specific areas - such as allowing full duty-free and quota-free access to exports from least-developed countries - could be tied up more quickly.
Over the past few weeks, I have enjoyed the challenge of leading a new government, with a new approach and new way of looking at things. Now I want us - leaders of the world’s richest nations - to prove the doubters wrong with a new approach to make summits deliver for all our citizens.