Virtually unnoticed by the world's press, the Mexican government has just hosted the first ever meeting of G20 foreign ministers. This is an important initiative and Mexico deserves congratulations for making it happen.

Although clearly sanctioned personally by the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, as part of his carefully thought through strategy for presiding over the G20 this year, the purpose of the initiative is best set out in a widely published op-ed authored by the Foreign Minister, Patricia Espinosa-Cantellano. That purpose of the G20 foreign ministers meeting is a "brainstorming exercise on today's most salient issues of global governance."

The G20 is the self-described "premier" world financial and economic forum, and all eyes will be on the world's finance ministers and central bankers in Mexico City this weekend. Most of its members have been reluctant to see the agenda of leaders broaden at this time to other areas of "global governance." But they all agreed to come to the resort of Los Cabos for an "informal meeting" of foreign ministers. It is an interesting precedent which will probably be repeated in future years.

As the Mexican minister put it, there is a need to address "the current sense of impasse in multilateral institutions." There is a "global governance gap" which the G20 should bridge with "vigorous and effective leadership." There is urgency as "the world is running out of time." These are powerful words coming from a senior government official, but they are undeniably true in my view.

How does this relate to what leaders have been doing in the financial and economic area? Espinosa-Cantellano asserts "the very fact that G20 countries have been effective in tackling difficult economic problems by discouraging unilateral measures and fostering policy coherence makes the prospect of successful concerted action on other global issues the more promising."

There is a Canadian dimension to this story. It was Paul Martin who, as minister of finance, pushed the idea more than a decade ago of the need for a G20 of finance ministers, going beyond the G7/8 to include a number of the world's major emerging economies. And it has been the Jim Balsillie-inspired Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., which has organized and substantially funded a series of initiatives that have included partners from think tanks, universities and governments around the world. We have benefitted from the participation and perspective of the Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty.

There is no doubt in my mind that Canadian initiatives have made a difference, although I must acknowledge my involvement may render me less than fully objective. But when I read the Mexican Foreign Minister asserting the G20's role in order to "break persistent deadlocks," this has a familiar ring to it.

One should not expect to read headlines describing deals reached at such meetings any time soon. But there is reason to hope that the habit of this group of foreign ministers consulting on environmental issues, including the critical area of climate change, the current Millennium Development Goals and their successors, as well as issues such as food security and corruption, will facilitate the reaching of agreements.

The U.K.'s Minister for Human Rights, Jeremy Brown, has written that "Mexico has captured the spirit of what the G20 is about: mutual cooperation on issues of mutual importance."

Well done, Mexico.

Former G8 Sherpa Gordon Smith is a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.
  • A former Canadian deputy foreign minister, NATO ambassador and G7/G8 Sherpa, Gordon Smith is a leading expert on the evolution of the G20 and global summitry.