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Behind the G-20: A primer

What to look for as the leaders of the world's largest economies meet in London.

By James HagengruberEurope editor / April 1, 2009

The G-20 economies make up 85 percent of global gross domestic product.

Rich Clabaugh/Staff

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Why not G-203?
Although the planet is covered by 203 officially recognized sovereign nations – depending on who’s doing the recognizing – the world’s 19 largest economies, plus the European Union and the leaders of major international financial institutions, make up the G-20.

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Formally known as the Group of 20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, the G-20 economies comprise 85 percent of global gross domestic product.

What’s the idea behind the meeting?
Apart from saving the world from the so-called Great Recession, G-20 leaders also hope to come up with a solution to global warming and find better ways to further international development.

Seriously. That’s the stated goal on the group’s website.

With the meeting lasting just over a day (starting with state dinners and royal schmoozefests Wednesday evening), there’s some doubt that all those issues will be addressed in a meaningful fashion.

The major focus, of course, is the economy. According to the group’s website: “The G-20 will need to send a strong signal that it is prepared to take whatever further actions are necessary to stabilise the financial system and to provide further macroeconomic support.”

In short, the leaders of these powerful economies want to project a message that something is being done.

Has this been attempted before?
In June 1933, representatives from 66 countries met in London in hopes of stopping the Great Depression. They met for six weeks before giving up.

Some historians say their efforts were effectively torpedoed by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who refused to allow US officials to participate in negotiations aimed at stabilizing currencies.

The US, France, and Britain ended up taking different courses to address the Depression. Historian Patricia Clavin, of Jesus College at Oxford University in Britain, told the Associated Press that acrimony over the failed 1933 conference might have fueled Nazi Germany’s expansionist ambitions.

“The fact that the whole thing was played out in public meant that Germany also knew there was very little cooperation between Britain and the United States,” says Ms. Clavin, author of “The Great Depression in Europe, 1929-1939.”

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