G20 Japan; What To Expect

February 11, 2019

London 11th February 2019

By Chris Southworth, ICC United Kingdom Secretary General 

Japan will use its G20 leadership role to help restore trust in multilateralism and promote international cooperation and sustainable growth.

As part of our G20 programme, ICC co-hosted the first of a series of G20 roundtables with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) to help companies understand what to expect from this year’s cycle. Despite G20 countries representing 85% of global trade, until last year the UK has never had an open forum for the private sector to convene, share insights and work on a collective basis with the UK government. Our G20 programme is designed to facilitate more engagement and strengthen the voice of UK business.

This year will see a significant change to the way in which companies can engage. Like G20 Germany, this year’s cycle will be half the length, finishing in July –while B20 will be even shorter – ending in April. There is one business organisation per country tasked with representing companies within its respective jurisdiction – in our case it’s the CBI. The ICC fulfils its normal role as a strategic partner to the G20 and B20 with METI acting as the official organising body for the former and Keidanren responsible for business engagement for the latter.

There are three core issues Japan wants to focus on this year; trade reform, the use of technology and sustainability. For both trade reform and technology, Japan is playing a leading role at the World Trade Organization, so there are clear opportunities to work with the Japanese government in practical workstreams where business have an interest. On sustainability, Japan is pressing the introduction of ‘Society 5.0’ – smarter use of technology to deliver the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Takashi Okada of the Japanese Embassy noted that “Japan seeks to realise and promote a free and open, inclusive and sustainable, human-centred future society.”

G20 isn’t just about what happens in Tokyo. Host governments act as a facilitator to generate political impetus around key priorities with the practical work being delivered through the major international institutions, namely the United Nations and WTO. “The G20 has rightly put beneficial reforms to the WTO on its agenda and will hopefully create the political impetus to ensure that the rules-based international trading order is fit for purpose in today’s times,” said Wilson De Socorro, Diaego. Effective influencing is therefore about feeding policy priorities into G20 as well as advocating consistent messages through all the relevant institutions to ensure governments deliver on what is being asked. The traditional mistake is to try to champion too many priorities which governments then struggle to deliver on the ground. At the roundtable it was agreed that we need a much shorter list of big-ticket priorities that will make the difference to global trade, rather than have a shopping list of too many technical priorities that can be picked up in the institutions themselves.

Challenges and opportunities

Trade reform is the hot topic for both business and government leaders. Without an effective WTO, there is no rules-based trading system so it’s imperative that the private sector supports a resolution to the issues being raised. The WTO Appellate Body, the panel of judges that resolve trade disputes, must be the key priority. This should align with a new model to approve international trade agreements that doesn’t solely depend on every WTO member agreeing before any deal is done. There is constructive dialogue underway on both that companies need to understand and support. What this means is scaling up the private sector presence in Geneva, engaging directly with WTO members to champion the benefits of the system in practical terms and getting behind pragmatic solutions. We shouldn’t make any assumptions that the system as we know it will survive in the same form, nor that trade representatives in Geneva understand what businesses need to function effectively. ICC’s Global Dialogue on Trade is a good example of how ICC is helping to act as a channel for business to input into the reform process supported by the WTO, World Bank, IMF and OECD. “The Joint Statement Initiative sessions with ICC and the Digital Trade Network are a good way to influence the World Trade Organization”, said Sean Edwards, ITFA & Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, “they allow the technical experts to interact with the policy makers and provide them with detailed and focused materials not easily available elsewhere". It is this kind of practical initiative that we need to engage with to help champion consistent messages with governments. Within the UK, HSBC, Shell, BT, AIG and Diageo are all involved, most of whom were at the roundtable sharing their insights.

Digital trade is the other major opportunity this year. For the first time since 1998, 76 governments have signed up to formal negotiations to modernise the global rules including China, the EU and the US. If we want to establish a modern framework that works for companies and covers all aspects of digital trade, we must engage in Geneva where private sector visibility is generally poor with a host of important sectors almost invisible. For our part, we have taken the initiative with broad delegations – made up of business organisations, companies and NGOs – all regularly going to Geneva and engaging directly with the 76 governments to help them understand the more technical aspects of digital trade policy.

2019 is the year the UK government will report into the UN on how the government is progressing in the delivery of SDGs. It’s a perfect opportunity to showcase the role of the private sector, as well as focus on key areas of the agenda where the UK is playing a lead role, namely sustainable finance. We will be mirroring best practice from the Swiss and Nordics and taking a business delegation out to New York later in the year alongside what will be a high-profile ministerial delegation at the UN High Level Political Forum in the autumn.

As with previous cycles, ICC is chairing two of the five B20 workstreams and will be the first business organisation to attend a G20 ministerial meeting before the B20 Summit at the end of March. We are also engaging on a weekly basis with METI and Keidanren to help support the Japanese leadership alongside the CBI who is the official UK B20 representative organisation. This means UK companies have two complimentary channels available to voice priorities and get further involved with. The G20 roundtables are designed to help this process by convening key stakeholders and influencers. The next roundtable will focus on sustainability and comprise a host of national and international business leaders as well as the UK government to agree how we can best cooperate to raise the profile of the UK at the UN later in the year. The responsibility for SDG delivery in the UK is split across government departments and generally suffers from a low profile in comparison to more domestic issues, so it’s important that we align priorities if we are to be an effective force within the UN machine. For our part, we will be utilising our new ICC Mission to the UN as well as working with the UK government Mission, both of which are critical resources to help support the business voice on the ground.

If you want to see the draft B20 recommendations or wish to get involved in any of the activities listed here, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. With Brexit looming, now is the time to start scaling up engagement with international institutions and ensure we are prepared for life outside the EU.  

Editor’s Note

ICC is the largest world business organisation representing 45 million companies and 1 billion employees in over 100 countries and the only business organisation with UN Observer Status. ICC United Kingdom is the representative office of ICC in the UK and works with British business groups worldwide to represent the voice of British business at inter-governmental level - the United Nations, G20 and World Trade Organization.


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