WORLD> Europe
British FM: G20 needs more than empty words
Updated: 2009-03-27 10:11

LONDON -- A British minister handling preparations for the upcoming Group of 20 summit said that leaders risk fueling public dissent, and dire consequences for the developing world, if they fail to agree on clear action to tackle the global downturn.

Britain's Foreign Minister Mark Malloch-Brown (L) gestures during a news conference in Brussels March 20, 2009. [Agencies]

Mark Malloch Brown told The Associated Press that vague commitments won't suffice when leaders from the world's major and emerging economies meet in London next week to discuss steps to address the crisis.

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To calm a feverish political atmosphere, which has sparked protests across Europe and unrest in Africa, lawmakers must offer clear plans, said the British foreign minister.

"If the leaders can demonstrate that, then I think the most critical win of the summit is that you'll start to see the return of confidence, the sense that there is light at the end of the tunnel," Malloch Brown said.

After bland pledges at a G20 summit in Washington last November, world leaders must prove they are in charge of the crisis, and set down practical steps to move out of the downturn, he said.

"We can't again engage in meaningless, empty commitments which don't survive the flight home," Malloch Brown said.

Malloch Brown, a former deputy U.N. chief and a longtime nemesis of neo-conservatives in the United States, is regarded as a sometimes undiplomatic diplomat. He clashed with John Bolton, the ex-US ambassador to the United Nations who made sharp criticisms of the international body.

But he's spent recent weeks shuttling between G20 capitals on behalf of Brown, attempting to strike consensus on how to tackle the downturn.

He said a key summit goal will be an attempt to restore public confidence in political leaders, amid angry protests at the handling of the crisis. Latvia, Lithuania, Iceland and Bulgaria have all seen riots in recent months.

Britain hopes the summit will lay the ground for an agreement later this year on the long-stalled Doha round of World Trade Organization talks, launched in 2001 to seal a fairer global commerce pact.

Malloch Brown said those hoping for any immediate impact from the April 2 summit may be disappointed.

"The global economy is going to go on descending on April 3, the massive destruction of wealth that is going on is not going to be stopped by any leaders' communique," he said. "Stock markets may be arrested and turned around, but we are in for a very tough 2009 under any circumstances, including a successful G20 summit."

He also warned struggling governments not to expect the summit to give them a swift political boost.

Some in Britain hope Brown can use the summit to revive his domestic fortunes. His governing Labour Party trails the main opposition Conservatives by an average 10 points in opinion polls.

"Incumbency is hell nowadays, just about every government is struggling with terrible opinion polls and very angry people," Malloch Brown told The AP on Wednesday.

He said Britain will ask nations to make a new pledge to meet international aid targets set at a G-8 meeting in Scotland in 2005, when countries vowed to commit 0.7 percent of GDP on overseas development by 2013.

Malloch Brown predicted progress on concluding the Doha trade deal, which he said could kick start the export markets which African nations rely on for growth.

"This is genuinely a matter of life and death," said Malloch Brown, a House of Lords member whose area of responsibility spans Africa and Asia. As a result of the downturn "tens of millions of people will be forced back beneath the poverty line."

He warned European leaders not to allow bickering over fiscal spending measures to stall progress toward the summit's goals.

Officials in the US have suggested Europeans should do more to match the scale of Washington's $787 billion package of spending and tax cuts, a move seemingly supported by Brown, but rejected by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French Finance minister Christine Lagarde.

Malloch Brown said Europe's response could be key to shaping ties between the Continent and the new White House.

"Europeans leave open at their peril the allegation, or impression, that somehow the world is looking to the American consumer to pull us all out of this global crisis," Malloch Brown said.

"If we leave the impression somehow that it is American spending and borrowing that is once more to be the engine of global recovery ... then I think that is hugely dangerous and will have real consequences on America's international engagement," he said.