It's a wrap: The summit leaders come to a tame conclusion

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Now that the isolated tumult and shouting have died, it is worth looking at what the G-20 summit actually achieved.

Pittsburgh's role as host, providing the venue for the leaders to discuss important topics while making a good global impression itself, seems to have played out well. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, who managed all the other details, even took action to get the rain to hold off.

The real test of the success of the G-20 is what the participants accomplished. Two major unknowns remain on that score. One is what the leaders said to each other in the person-to-person encounters they had here. We'll never know, for example, what President Barack Obama told Chinese President Hu Jintao about tires and chicken feet. Also unknown at this point is what the countries will do to carry out whatever pledges they made in Pittsburgh when they get home. That will depend on the individual political circumstances of each.

Looking at the "Leaders' Statement" released Friday and the various press conferences that attendees held after the summit, here are some of the important decisions made and positions taken.

1. Henceforth, critical world economic and financial decisions will be taken by the G-20, as opposed to the G-8, as in the past. That means adding Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the European Union to the G-8's Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

This is important, for greater efficiency in coordination and in terms of giving middle-sized economies a greater say in the big decisions. It was insane on its face to have excluded China and India, for example, from top-level deliberations. Reflecting the shift to a degree, Canada will host the June 2010 summit; South Korea, a new player, the one in November 2010; and France the 2011 round.

2. At least lip service was paid to continuing efforts around the world to see the global economy out of the past year's recession. Language about stubbornly high unemployment, however, was somewhat pallid.

3. Reforms designed to see that such an economic train wreck not recur were discussed. Countries subscribed to a need for changes to the banking sector but, reflecting the disagreement among them -- notably between the United States and the United Kingdom and the other Europeans -- there was little, if anything, about the regulation of banks and financial houses and, in particular, executive pay caps, in the concluding statements. It is no secret that Mr. Obama is loath to tackle this issue while he is trying to build support in the Congress for his health care changes.

4. Coordination prior to the upcoming Copenhagen climate change conference received little attention. A pledge by the countries to phase out $300 billion in fossil fuel subsidies is partly relevant to that issue, if it is respected.

5. G-20 participants' aid to poorer countries received some attention, with a reiteration of the G-8's previous pledge of $20 billion to that end. The poorer countries will benefit to a degree from a reallocation of International Monetary Fund and World Bank voting shares in their direction.

6. World trade, a sensitive topic, received little attention, except perhaps in the corridors.

In the end, the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh provided a good opportunity for the participants to talk. What action follows by the leaders remains to be seen.


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