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Business is part of the solution

Maria Livanos Cattaui
1 August 2001

What happened at Genoa has happened at other international meetings. They are lightning rods for all kinds of interests. We at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) are concerned that valid, difficult issues are not being looked at, amidst the noise of contradictory protests.

There are many NGOs that do important work and are not interested in trashing cars. I have worked with many of these, including the International Youth Foundation. In its environmental work, ICC has worked closely with some of the more serious environmental groups. Transparency International, to take one example, decided to do something about corruption. It put the spotlight on a problem, deploying all the means it could – it has worked hard to put together surveys. It, and other constructive NGOs, have gone out to try to convince governments, international organizations, individual companies and societies. They’ve used the media, they’ve mobilized opinion, they’ve gone after the kind of influence that is necessary. They’ve galvanized an issue that before was rather diffuse and have made it clear. People have taken action, and they’ve delivered.

ICC represents business globally. Our statement to the G8 concentrated on international trade policy, the problems of the developing countries, global financial stability, the linkages between globalisation, technology and development, business in society, and a whole panoply of concerns around sustainable development. On this issue I don’t believe that the necessary voices have come together in concrete ways to find solutions. For instance, very large countries, like China, or Brazil, Indonesia and India, need strong growth and development. I don’t think we’ve answered the questions of how we’re going to provide the necessary energy in sustainable forms. The same for water needs. The same for large cities, the accumulation of people in large urban areas. These kinds of questions are not ones that you can protest against. They need input from all players in society – including, and especially, business. For at the end of the day, the solutions will not be developed and implemented by governments alone. These are solutions that require the kind of innovation and creativeness that only business can provide. Business is part of the solution.

Take environmental issues, for example. Like any other major issue this has economic and social implications and is not solvable by one party or partner alone. Each area of the world – each locality – is going to require quite specific steps of its own, and its own plans. And each part of the world will require at least some help from business communities that operate there to implement these solutions. It doesn’t do very much good to be negative about these things!

ICC was a very effective player in the climate change negotiations in Bonn. It’s fine for Charles Secrett to argue, as he does in the openDemocracy forum, that the NGOs played a positive role there by comparison with Genoa, and I would agree. But he seems to assume that what people call “civil society” does not include business. This concerns me. I never know what uncivil society is supposed to be! The category of non-governmental organisations includes everything except governments – from business to the Catholic Church to Oxford University.

So it’s unclear to me who we’re talking about. I believe that the different partners such as business, trade unions, advocacy groups and special interest groups should sit down and make some sense of what is going on, rather than just shouting into the air at each other. A constructive approach contributed, in my opinion, to the effectiveness of Bonn. I’m not saying that it contributed to a good or bad outcome, but it contributed to an effective procedure and process. I’m still concerned, however, that clear targets have not been worked through. Business likes to deal with things that are concrete and clarified so that it can then go on and implement them.

But if we’re talking about Genoa and what went on there, we have to recognise that the G8 is different. They’re not negotiating a treaty, like the Bonn climate change negotiations. To influence G8, we have to go to our governments, to change the minds of the men and women at the meetings. That’s our job for G8, and there are many tools available in the democratic process, which is neither impotent nor irrelevant. On the contrary, it’s still very robust, the best system we have for representing peoples’ views, needs and concerns. I don’t know why we belittle it.

G7/G8 are not negotiating any kind of international convention, they’re making recommendations. This is a meeting of powerful states, exchanging ideas on some of the most pertinent and pressing issues of the year. It is nothing more than an attempt to find direction amongst themselves on matters of international import. When all is said and done, they still have to implement their recommendations, either through their national governments and legislatures, or through an appropriate international forum. The summit statement is not a finality or edict. It is simply a communiqué of intentions and ideas. We have to distinguish between this and the hard, inter-governmental negotiations in Bonn or in the WTO, which is an agreement on trade rules. The WTO itself doesn’t do anything – it’s the member governments in it that agree on sets of rules governing transactions among themselves.

WTO rules are set and agreed by governments on a consensus basis. These governments are popularly elected officials, put in power by the electorates of their countries. I think people tend to forget that. It is true that until now the developing countries did not have the strength to put forward their viewpoint, but this has changed – and mightily so. This year we are seeing less powerful countries, in terms of their individual economies, banding together and becoming one of the most powerful voices in the WTO negotiations.

Coming back to the G8, there are many issues that have been considered by the G8, but not yet fully solved, particularly because the G8 is not comprised of the countries most affected by the fragility of the financial system. Personally I hold a great deal of hope for the G20 process examining the global financial system. It doesn’t include everybody but it has a broader representation. I think G20 should also include, in an informal manner, the voices of business and of others. This would be quite a powerful forum in which some of the critical issues can be looked at.

I do not support over-centralization in international institutions. I don’t think there should be one paramount methodology or forum through which we handle all issues. Instead, we should be accepting a certain amount of complexity. I don’t know why we are so afraid of complexity. We should welcome it. The inter-weaving of ideas is fundamental to a knowledge society. We should accept different kinds of fora to achieve different outcomes. Of course, we would need to be careful to avoid waste or duplication, but we all have to pursue multiple ways forward if we want to achieve better development.

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