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[Opinion] G20 Summit in London

Posted March. 17, 2009 09:23,   


London in June 1933 hosted an international conference on the Great Depression. The agenda of the 66 participating countries was currency cooperation and the elimination of trade barriers. Coming to a conclusion was far from easy because U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was inaugurated three months ago, disapproved. After making British Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald and other delegates waited overnight, Roosevelt sent a telegram saying the top priority of the United States is to correct its economic system. In a nutshell, his answer was no.

The 1933 conference ended in failure at a time when the Great Depression was in full swing. The United States, which saw unemployment soar to 25 percent, needed to devaluate the dollar to regain its global competitive edge. Europe flared up and this prolonged the Great Depression. Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium adopted fascism mixed with radical nationalism and national socialism. World War Ⅱ loomed behind the “beggar-thy-neighbor” type of protectionism.

Next month, London will again host an international conference on tackling a global economic crisis. The Group of 20 summit will be held in the British capital April 2. Why is the city the venue of the conference on the once-in-a-century crisis after having hosted the ill-fated event 76 years ago? Is this a coincidence? The conclusion of the conference will decide the fate of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who could face falling approval ratings in the run-up to next year’s elections.

A successful G20 summit is crucial to stop this crisis from escalating into depression. International cooperation is necessary to boost the economy and streamline the financial system. Like in the 1985 movie “Back to the Future,” if Roosevelt could go back in time, he should have sent the following telegram to the 1933 conference: “The top priority of the United States is to correct the international economic system.” Maybe that is why this year’s summit is being held in London. President Barack Obama should leave no doubt as to what the top U.S. priority is: revival of the global economy based on free trade.

Editorial Writer Kim Soon-deok (yuri@donga.com)