Ky. Voices: Putin faces internal woes, global distrust in summit

September 3, 2013 

Kristal Eldredge Alley, a Lexington native and University of Kentucky graduate, lives in Mexico City and manages her own international consultancy.

Later this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin will sit down with other G20 leaders in St. Petersburg. Despite calls by some in Congress to move the summit out of Russia, it's still being held in the Konstantinovsky Palace and President Barack Obama is still attending.

Russia has organized its G20 presidency around three overarching economic priorities: growth through quality jobs and investment, growth through effective regulation, and growth through trust and transparency. It's the last of these three growth imperatives that stands to suffer most with Russia at the helm.

According to the G20 Research Group at the University of Toronto, trust is already the group's central challenge. Trust in the economy so business will invest and generate jobs; trust in the financial system; and trust in citizens, companies and politicians to behave in a fair and law-abiding way.

I would add trust among the leaders themselves. Without this, there is no reason to believe that G20 promises made are promises kept.

Here is where things get sticky for Putin. Since he assumed the presidency of the G20, the list of issues on which Russia and the United States are on distinctly opposite sides has grown.

From Syria to Snowden and from banning Americans from adopting Russian children to criminalizing "homosexual propaganda," Putin's increasing hostility to the West and human rights abuses in his own country stand to undermine the success of the G20 Summit.

Why is this important? Because the financial and economic crisis that catalyzed the G20's creation has not gone away.

And to the extent the G20 can be credited for containing the crisis, it has been decidedly effective in addressing global economic issues. There is still work to be done.

Another of Russia's overarching themes — growth through quality jobs and investment — is a case in point.

According to the UN International Labor Organization, unemployment in the G20 countries remains at unacceptably high levels. During the past 12 months, while unemployment has dropped marginally in about half the G20 economies, it has risen in the other half.

From a high of 25 percent in Spain and South Africa to a low of 3 percent in South Korea, unemployment across the G20 countries averages 9 percent. Further, the labor organization points out that among the 93 million unemployed in early 2013, about a third were jobless for over a year.

Effective regulation is the other overarching theme. This primarily refers to the G20's efforts to strengthen the global financial architecture and change the behavior of financial sector participants. With respect to financial regulations, the United States is moving faster than the rest of the world.

Even Europe is opting for less vigorous banking reforms as it continues to struggle with its currency and sovereign debt crisis.

According to an August regulatory brief, "U.S. regulators have indicated that they would sacrifice coordinated efforts and a level playing field for more robust approaches, even if that means going it alone."

A key uncertainty is whether the rest of the world will follow the U.S. regulatory drive and how this will affect the G20's efforts.

Putin has his job cut out for him. Whether he and the other leaders are able to make decisions in an environment of fundamental personal distrust, agree on policies to battle intransigent joblessness and manage a go-it-alone attitude by the group's largest member will certainly affect G20 credibility.

At the end of day, we should hope that leaders of the world's 20 largest economies will remember that there is still much to be done.

Kristal Eldredge Alley, a Lexington native and University of Kentucky graduate, lives in Mexico City and manages her own international consultancy.

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