BRISBANE, Australia – World leaders on Sunday prepared to release details of a plan aimed at injecting life into the world’s listless economy, with infrastructure investment and the lowering of trade barriers flagged as key components of the initiative.
Leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies, wrapping up a two-day gathering in the Australian city of Brisbane, were hammering out the final components of a plan to boost global GDP by more than 2 per cent above expected levels over the next five years, which amounts to around $2 trillion.
“That is millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in extra production,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in an address to the G-20 conference. “Yes, we want freer trade and we will deliver it. Yes, we need more infrastructure and we will build it.”
G-20 nations, which represent 85 per cent of the global economy, are under pressure to take definitive action at this year’s summit, rather than simply producing a set of vague, unmeasurable goals. The International Monetary Fund has warned about a “new mediocre” for the world economy, putting renewed focus on the G-20’s growth initiative.
The final communique, to be issued later Sunday, will be based on individual plans submitted by each G-20 country, outlining how they will achieve their contribution toward the growth target. World GDP this year is about $77 trillioncool.
Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said the group’s strategies include 1,000 measures that will lift infrastructure investment, increase trade and competition, cut red tape and increase employment.
“While we still face economic challenges in many parts of the world, I’m optimistic our 2 per cent commitment will deliver the growth the world needs,” Hockey said.
But rights groups such as The Civil Society 20 group, or C20, want assurances that the poor will benefit the most from the plans, estimating that the additional growth could lift 1 billion people out of poverty if it was poured into the poorest 20 per cent of G-20 households.
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In between official talks, leaders have taken time to enjoy a bit of Aussie culture. A photo of a smiling Abbott and Russian President Vladimir Putin standing side-by-side while holding koalas was a rare lighthearted moment in an otherwise frosty atmosphere surrounding the Russian leader’s presence. Putin has come under fire from multiple leaders at the summit over the escalating conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
The leaders also enjoyed an Aussie barbecue at the state Parliament House, feasting on king prawns, oysters, lamb and pavlova, a popular meringue dessert generally served with fruit and whipped cream. Several of their spouses, meanwhile, visited a wildlife sanctuary where they, too, cuddled with koalas and fed kangaroos.
Although Abbott has sought to keep the summit tightly focused on the growth plan, he has faced pressure to add issues such as the Ebola crisis in West Africa and climate change to the agenda.
On Saturday night, the leaders issued a statement on Ebola, urging countries that haven’t donated to efforts to combat the disease to do so now, and to send medical teams. The group also said researchers, regulators and drug companies needed to work harder to develop vaccines and treatments.
Outside the convention centre where the summit is taking place, thousands of protesters braved a scorching heat wave and a labyrinth of roadblocks to stage rallies demanding everything from action on climate change to banning Putin from the gathering.
The protests have been largely peaceful, with only a handful of arrests. An Associated Press photojournalist saw police take two gas masks and a pocket knife out of two activists’ bags before escorting them away. Knives and gas masks are on a lengthy list of banned items in the city this weekend; prohibited items also include eggs, guns, kites and reptiles.
Six thousand police officers were on duty to maintain order, many dumping bottles of water on themselves to cope with temperatures that are expected to reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday.
Taxe avoidance by big, multinational companies was expected to be high on the agenda, particularly in light of the recent leak of documents suggesting that hundreds of big companies such as Pepsi and IKEA had organized tax-lowering deals with Luxembourg.
The tiny European nation’s neighbours reacted angrily to the news, noting that they have had to impose harsh austerity measures on their own citizens to keep government budgets afloat following the global recession.
On Saturday, Jean-Claude Juncker, two weeks into his new job as European Commission president, faced tough questioning about his tax record as prime minister of Luxembourg for 18 years.
During a news conference on the sidelines of the G-20, he was grilled about whether Luxembourg was guilty of “picking people’s pockets” while he was the nation’s leader, and asked whether he could be considered a credible representative of the European Union on the issue of tax avoidance, given his ties to Luxembourg.
Juncker largely deflected the questions.
Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk contributed to this report.