Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

PM Must Replace His Grand Aims with Real Steps to Free Trade

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

PM Must Replace His Grand Aims with Real Steps to Free Trade

Article excerpt

Byline: COMMENTARY GEORGE OSBORNE SHADOW CHANCELLOR

IT'S IN all our interests that the world's largest economies come together to see what collectively can be done. We should be pleased too that Britain happens, by a stroke of luck, to be in the chair of the G20 this year.

The question is: what will really be achieved? The rather panicky downplaying of expectations by the Chancellor at the weekend is ominous. It is all rather different from the noises coming from Downing Street a few weeks ago.

Then Gordon Brown was boasting he would achieve a "grand global bargain" that would provide cover for a second fiscal stimulus at home. It all looked like a transparent attempt to outmanoeuvre us Conservatives, who warned that the temporary VAT cut wouldn't work because the country couldn't afford it and who oppose a further fiscal stimulus in Britain for the same reason.

If the build-up to the G20 was about creating political dividing lines at home, then it has spectacularly backfired for Gordon Brown.

It has left him isolated and shown that our concerns over rising debt are widely shared by European leaders.

The real defining moment came when the Governor of the Bank felt he had to go public in his warnings that Britain cannot afford a second fiscal stimulus -- leaving Mr Brown's plans for next month's Budget in tatters. This is what happens when you try to use the international stage to play domestic politics.

I hope it is not too late for the Prime Minister to make up for these mistakes and focus on the real agenda. Much can be achieved if we are bold enough. Take world trade. This powerful motor of economic growth has driven prosperity and reduced poverty around the world. But it is spluttering badly.

I have no doubt that when the Governments sit around the table in the Excel Centre they will agree to "reject protectionism". After all, they said the same thing at the last G20 meeting in Washington last November. Since then 17 of those governments have implemented protectionist measures.

What would make a real difference is a decision at the G20 to conclude the long-delayed Doha free trade round. …

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