Two Views

Outlooks on the G20 Summit


On June 28 and 29, leaders from 19 countries and the European Union assembled at a G20 Summit in Osaka to address some of the major economic and political challenges the world faces today.

During the two days, discussions were held on topics such as the environment, energy and cybersecurity. In addition to formal talks, there were also opportunities for leaders to address pressing concerns between their nations in more informal settings.

But from Canada’s perspective, what were its most important goals, and how successful was it in meeting them? To explore the topic more deeply, The Canadian spoke with Carlo Dade, director of the Trade and Investment Centre at the Canada West Foundation, and Samuel Gildart, lecturer at the Chiba University of Commerce. From them we were able to learn more about the most significant takeaways from the summit, some conversations that might not have made it into the news, as well as areas where Canada and Japan were able to set the stage for collaboration, both at the summit and in the weeks leading up to the event.

Canadian trade expert

What do you believe were Canada’s most important goals going into the G20?

Reputational repair. The Canadian prime minister had damaged the Japan–Canada relationship at the 2017 APEC summit in Danang. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau essentially embarrassed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by refusing to follow through on diplomatic negotiations that were supposed to lead to a signing of the TPP11 agreement. Canada has done much to try to fix the ties with several high-level visits, but the Danang slight will take years to fix. Hopefully the G20 can lead to the conclusion of the repair-the-relationship era. Canadian media and observers will rightly be focusing on how Trudeau deals with his Chinese counterpart and the issue of mending fences with Japan will not be picked up. I do not think that a lot more has to be done to repair ties at this point.

What was the biggest achievement Canada scored at the summit?

Perhaps less noticed but still important was the progress on EMPOWER [a Canadian-led initiative that, according to a Trudeau statement, “will advance women’s economic empowerment and representation at senior levels of business around the world”]. On one hand that may be helpful down the road for Canada–United States relations; on the other hand, the initiative reflects some progress on gender work-place issues.

How successful was Canada’s bid to lobby the United States to conduct itself in a more multilateral manner?

I saw no evidence of that. Every country has to balance its worry over larger global issues versus its own unique issues with the Americans. For example, Canada is seriously worried about U.S. unilateralism, but it also needs Trump’s help with the Canadian citizens detained in China. This bifurcation of interests, I think, prevents the international community from speaking with one focused voice to the United States.

What do you consider to have been the main takeaways from the summit?

The biggest takeaway is that, with the next G20 scheduled for Saudi Arabia, there will be potential for major controversy [due to Riyadh’s connection to the murder of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi]. I can see the Russians and Trump attending the next summit, but I wonder about other nations. It will be interesting.

For Canada’s top political and business leaders to engage with the ad­min­is­trations of the world’s other major 19 economies is significant in itself.


From the point of view of a Canadian, how successful was the summit?

I think that having the opportunity for Canada’s top political and business leaders to engage with the administrations of the world’s other major 19 economies is significant in itself.

Although the declarations leaders finalize at the end of each summit are not legally en-force-able, they nevertheless provide an excellent opportunity for dialogue that would not exist without the G20.

Canada has the smallest economy in the G7. However, in the G20 context, it has some middle power with regard to diplomacy and influence. The goals of getting a consensus on the importance of maintaining an open international trading system and reducing plastic waste were reached. But an agreement on how to approach climate change was not.

Were there any great surprises at the G20 regarding Canada and Japan?

From the Japanese side, the introduction of the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision, which has the highly admirable aim of reducing pollution caused by marine plastic litter to zero by 2050, was a welcome surprise. To achieve this goal, the Japanese government has launched the MARINE Initiative — which stands for management of waste, recovery of marine litter, innovation and empowerment.

This will be carried out by Japan providing official development assistance to poor countries to assist them in waste treatment methods that reduce plastic that ends up in the ocean and is responsible for the deaths of many marine species such as whales, sharks and sea turtles. Efforts to reduce plastic and other waste is always a goal where most international leaders can find some common ground.

What were some of the G20 talks about which we may not have heard?

Perhaps what did not get much attention (or what was discussed behind closed doors) was Canada–China relations hitting a new low. The Canadian government’s decision to detain, at the request of the U.S. government, Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, on suspicion of violating sanctions against Iran is believed to have sparked China’s arbitrary arrest of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Since relations have plummeted, China has banned canola and pork imports from Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and China’s Xi Jinping were noticed to be talking during the summit, but due to the delicate nature of this matter we may not know for some time the details of their conversation.

Are there any policy areas where Canada and Japan were able to collaborate?

This year is the 90th anniversary of Canada–Japan relations and ties are only getting stronger. This is further exemplified by both countries being signatory to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. As one of the G20 events of 2019 in Japan, the G20 Energy Transitions and Global Environment for Sustainable Growth Ministerial Meeting was held on June 15 and 16 in Karuizawa, Yamanashi Prefecture. At this meeting, Canada and Japan signed two significant memoranda of understanding. In the first one, Natural Resources Canada and the Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry commit themselves to advance cooperation in the fields of clean energy, energy efficiency, oil and gas and to step up collaborative efforts to combat global climate change.

The second one commits Natural Resources Canada and the Japan Coal Energy Center to work in unison on clean energy. This includes carbon capture utilization and storage technologies. It demonstrates the fact that Canada is a leader in the area of clean energy, and a secure and sustainable resource supplier for Japan.

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