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What can we expect from the French G20?

Work towards next year’s G20 in France has already begun. So what can we look forward to in the year ahead?

The G20 in Seoul concluded last week with an acceptance among leaders that, in principle at least, they need to shift away from a donor-directed approach to development to a country-owned one, and a reinforced commitment to aid. And so we turn our attention to next year’s meeting in Cannes, France.

Work has already started on the November 2011 meeting and much of the process to determine the outcomes will be developed behind the scenes in the coming months.

So what can we expect from the French G20?

We know that international development will be on the agenda. That is now, following the Seoul declaration, a permanent feature of the G20. We also know that the French have sketched out an agenda that includes fighting hunger and promoting health for all. To ensure that countries have the resources needed for these, France is interested in addressing issues of taxation, including innovative taxation, to help finance development.

Strengthened taxation and regulatory systems could help prevent money illicitly leaving the poorest countries. This could help ensure that billions of dollars of African money stays in Africa and is properly taxed and used for development.

Innovative taxes and revenue raising mechanisms, meanwhile, could help address the shortfall in international development finance. France is among the countries yet to deliver in full on its Gleneagles’ commitments.

A key determinant of the outcomes on innovative revenue raising mechanisms will be whether France, as G20 chair, insists on every country’s involvement as a precondition, or whether it uses its role to develop a series of agreements between countries over the coming year to be signed off in November.

On the much discussed financial transaction tax (FTT), for example, there is a real chance in 2011 for securing some variant of it, based on agreement between European countries plus some other G20 members, not including the US. Insisting on every country’s involvement would in practice mean that no country institutes an FTT. But France could lead a coalition of the willing on an FTT that will generate billions of dollars to help ensure that donors meet their aid pledges and that children in the poorest countries grow up healthy, not hungry.

The French G20 is an opportunity to generate working agreements that deliver real change for those most hurting from the global economic downturn. It should not be wasted.

As the chair of both the G20 and the G8 in 2011, France could play a transformative role in the fight against poverty. French journalists and NGO representatives in Seoul last week were torn between scepticism and optimism. They told me of worries that the G20 might be used as a stage on which to perform, and joked that Cannes, as the venue of an annual film festival, would make the ideal setting for such a performance. On the other hand, they noted the French president’s genuine interest in Africa, and belief that he really does want to make a difference.

Africans are losing patience with Europe’s broken promises: the European aid that has been announced but not given; the European banks that continue to make profits from money taken illegally out of Africa; the trade barriers to European markets that keep Africa poor.

For many, South Korea’s G20 chairmanship helped to illustrate that Asia is the future. In 2011, France needs to prove that Europe is not the past.

This article was originally published in the Guardian

Ben Phillips is Save the Children’s Asia strategy director.

Follow his tweets at http://twitter.com/atbenphillips

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