Indonesia warns of energy, food catastrophe in G20 meet

Group of 20 finance ministers and central bank chiefs met in Indonesia Friday for talks on the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the host warning them failure to tackle energy and food crises would be catastrophic.

The two-day meeting on the resort island of Bali started under the shadow of a war that has roiled markets, spiked food prices and stoked breakneck inflation, a week after Moscow’s top diplomat walked out of talks with the forum’s foreign ministers.

In her opening remarks, Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati called on ministers to work together with a spirit of “cooperation” because “the world is watching” for solutions.

“The cost of our failure is more than we can afford,” she told delegates. “The humanitarian consequences for the world and for many low-income countries would be catastrophic.”

Top global finance figures, including US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, were to discuss the rebound from the coronavirus pandemic, but the Ukraine war and its impact on an already brittle global recovery have dominated the agenda.

Canada’s Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, who has Ukrainian heritage, told Russia’s delegation they were responsible for “war crimes” in Ukraine because of their support for the invasion, a Canadian official said.

“It is not only generals who commit war crimes, it is the economic technocrats who allow the war to happen and to continue,” Freeland said in the opening session, according to the official.

Both Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and Ukrainian Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko are participating virtually in the meeting.

Moscow instead sent Russian Deputy Finance Minister Timur Maksimov and Bank of Russia official Elizaveta Danilova to attend the talks in person.

Freeland went on to say the war was currently “the single biggest threat” to the global economy, according to the official, echoing comments from Yellen a day earlier.

Yellen called Russia’s war in Ukraine the “greatest challenge” to the global economy and said members of Putin’s government “have no place” at the talks.

After Russia’s delegation addressed the meeting, a Western official told AFP Moscow did not send their finance minister or central bank governor in person “after the very direct criticism” that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov faced last week at talks in Bali.

The meeting has largely focused on the food and energy crises that are hitting economies across the world as a result of the war.

Italian Minister for Economy Daniele Franco addressed the ministers with the message that they “have a key role in avoiding that food insecurity turns into a humanitarian crisis,” according to an Italian official.

Yellen is pressing G20 allies for a price cap on Russian oil to choke off President Vladimir Putin’s war chest and pressure Moscow to end its invasion while bringing down energy costs.

Yellen in April led a multinational walkout of finance officials as Russian delegates spoke at a G20 meeting in Washington.

But there was no walkout on Friday after Yellen would not be drawn on a possible repeat of that joint action a day earlier.

There is also unlikely to be a final communique issued when talks end on Saturday because of disagreements with Russia.

G20 chair Indonesia—which pursues a neutral foreign policy – has refrained from uninviting Russia despite Western pressure

“This is not an easy time given our diverse membership… and also the differences in our position and views,” said Indrawati.

“We need to act together to demonstrate why G20 deserves its reputation as the premier forum for international cooperation.”

But it has been difficult to get all parties around the table in person.

Alongisde Moscow and Kyiv’s ministers, Chinese Finance Minister Liu Kun, and Britain’s new Finance Minister Nadhim Zahawi were only attending virtually.

International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva will appear in person after saying Wednesday the global economic outlook had “darkened significantly” because of Moscow’s invasion.

European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde is participating virtually, but World Bank chief executive David Malpass will not attend.

The meeting is a prelude to the leaders’ summit on the Indonesian island in November that was meant to focus on the global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other issues being tackled by the ministers included digital financial inclusion—with more than a billion of the world’s population still without access to a bank account—and the deadline for an international tax rules overhaul.