Monday, November 1, 2010

G20 CEOs will promote free trade

Oh Young-ho,
vice chairman of the Korea International Trade Association
By Kim Tong-hyung

With stimuli winding down, all eyes are on the private sector to step in and pick up the slack in strengthening the global economic recovery.

Corporate leaders appear ready to answer the call, but this will require governments to work closely with the business community to provide certainty and encourage international trade and investment, according to a senior official preparing a high-profile business summit linked to the Seoul Group of 20 meeting in November.

Combating trade restrictions and protectionism is clearly among the biggest concerns of global corporate leaders right now as well as uncertainties in financial sector regulation, said Oh Young-ho, vice chairman of the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) and the commissioner of the Seoul G20 Business Summit’s organizing committee. 

The business summit is slated for Nov. 10 and 11 at the Sheraton Walkerhill Hotel in 
northeastern Seoul, ahead of the G20 summit of world leaders scheduled for Nov. 11 and 12 at the COEX convention center in southern Seoul.

“The Seoul business summit will allow the chief executives to discuss with political leaders the direction of global economic policies after the economic crisis and provide a platform for international collaboration. The meeting will have an important role in strengthening the relevance of the G20 as the main vehicle for designing and implementing international economic policies,” Oh said in an interview with The Korea Times.

“The task of bringing the world’s most successful chief executives together and having them work under a new framework of cooperation will provide a crucial experience for Korea, which looks to get more integrated in international decision-making and build a reputation for leadership.”

A who’s who of influential business executives 

About 120 of the world’s most influential business people are expected to assemble in Seoul to discuss the priorities of the international business community and advise world leaders and finance ministers gathered for the G20 summit.

“We had originally planned to invite 100 CEOs, but due to the high-level of interest, we are expecting around 120. About 80 to 90 of the CEOs, in addition to the 15 Korean participants, are from companies from the G20 states, while about 20 are from countries outside the G20,” Oh said, adding that about 95 percent of the guest-list has been completed. “We were obviously trying to achieve diversity in countries and industries represented. The list of the Fortune 250 enterprises also influenced the way we picked the invitees.”

Gathering the world’s most important corporate figures in one place is certainly a difficult challenge. An even tougher task will be having them join forces to collectively support something more than empty rhetoric.

Oh stresses that organizers are not intending the business summit to become a safe, middle-of-the-road sideshow to the G20 meeting. The CEOs in Seoul will get every chance to influence political leaders on their discussions for fiscal policies and financial reform as well as providing advice on ways to jolt international trade and investment, he said.

“What separates the Seoul business summit from any other previous business forum is that it aspires to do more than just provide a platform for exchanging views, but also seek real answers to the questions raised on the agenda. The roundtable discussion between global CEOs and world leaders over major economic issues is an unprecedented opportunity.

“This certainly won’t be a once-only event and the priority is to produce results with a real impact. We have been organizing several meetings to prepare for the event, communicating closely with companies to produce reports on each discussion theme. There are talks on whether to announce the results in the form of a communiqué.”

Trade, green tech issues 

Oh expects the global CEOs to discuss with their political counterparts measures to guide the direction of financial system reform to support economic growth and encourage investment and innovation in infrastructure, technologies and research and development in key industries.

“There are certainly some differences in interest between the companies from different countries, but I think CSR will be one area where the business support participants could produce an important consensus. Companies around the world have already been burned for their blind commitment to short-term profit, which resulted in the global economic downturn, and are now more interested in establishing a long-term perspective and building a healthier relationship with society,” Oh said.

“The business summit is where important discussions on combating youth unemployment, improving the public’s accessibility to medical resources in African nations and advancing technologies could be made. We are putting high hopes on the collective intelligence and vision that global CEOs will be providing.”

Perhaps, the trickier part of the business summit will be the discussions about the flood of trade restrictions and protectionist actions applied by countries, including G20 member states, under the still-fragile global economy.

“The presence of tariffs and other visible trade barriers have been decreasing under international cooperation based on the G20 platform. That said, the presence of non-tariff barriers seems to strengthening somewhat, and this seems to be hurting companies,” Oh said.

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