Mike Callaghan is Director of the Lowy Institute's G20 Studies Centre.
Russia has wasted no time in launching into G2O meetings after it assumed the chair on 1 December. And it has made a good start, indicating an intent to streamline meetings, focus on outcomes, develop linkages across topics, and promote the role of the 'troika' (past, present and future chairs). This is more than mere procedure. If successful, it will contribute to a more effective G20.
From 11 to 12 December there were separate G20 meetings in Moscow of think tanks (Think 20, which the Lowy Institute co-chaired, consistent with the G20 'troika' arrangement), civil society (C20), and business (B20) along with Sherpas (senior officials representing leaders). Russia will not be accused of having too few G20 events. It has announced a busy schedule for 2013.
The challenge is to direct all this activity to delivering meaningful outcomes. Process must not dominate over substance, although it is encouraging that Russia is seeking ideas from a wide cross section. But a multitude of views are being promoted and many of the groups are advocates for specific issues.
Not all the issues raised can be included on the G20 agenda. It is already too wide. As mentioned during the Moscow meetings, 'if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority'. The first challenge for the chair is to prioritise the issues. The second is to identify tangible outcomes; the G20 has to be more that a talk shop. The third is to make sure commitments are implemented. The best way to destroy credibility is to promise too much and deliver too little.
But it is important for the G20 to listen and be responsive, and the extent of the Russian outreach process is impressive. Its emphasis on a 'results oriented and pragmatic approach' involving a streamlining of working formats and meetings.
It is pleasing that Russia is continuing with the Mexican initiative to have a Think 20. The Moscow meeting was commendably organised around the overarching theme of fostering economic growth. The G20 needs a coherent and clear narrative as to why the measures being advanced are contributing to strong economic and jobs growth.
The need for a clear narrative is no more telling than in the task of dealing with the European crisis. As expected, there was debate over the issue of 'growth versus austerity'. But this debate is too narrow. Attention should be on what is required to achieve growth, recognising that fiscal sustainability is essential for growth, as are structural reforms and freeing up trade and investment. Most important is the need to restore confidence, which is essential if firms are going to invest and create jobs. And confidence will ultimately depend on the credibility of public policies.
Russia formally announced its priorities for 2013 as being: growth through quality jobs and investment; growth through trust and transparency; and growth through effective regulation. It is commendable that the focus is on growth and jobs. But some of the connections appear contrived. Green growth, which in its widest definition is growth which uses resources in a sustainable manner, is presented through the prism of regulation and reform of the international monetary system. There seems to be an element of grouping issues for the sake of neatness. This may only be presentational and we wait to see how an 'action orientated' and inter-connected agenda will be advanced.
Russia has made a promising start. But it is the beginning of what will be a challenging year for Russia and the G20.