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How Canada made the G20 happen Add to ...

Part of the problem was that the new arrivals had been accustomed to sending large delegations to international gatherings, with outcomes scripted in advance. But Mr. Martin wanted a more informal and effective environment, in which only finance ministers, deputy finance ministers and governors of central banks would be allowed in the room.

When it came Canada's turn to host the G20 ministers in Montreal in 2000, Mr. Martin hatched a scheme. First, he phoned each of his Western counterparts with a blunt message: This would not be a meeting of the G7 ministers and some guests. Everyone would have an equal seat at the table: "We're now the G20, period," he repeated over and over. "There is no G7 at this meeting."

Then he called Mr. Summers and South Africa's finance minister, Trevor Manuel, to warn them he was going to talk about agriculture. Africa and the U.S. were (and still are) at odds over agricultural exports. The Americans wanted the Africans to drop tariff barriers to their manufactured goods, yet refused to drop tariffs against African agricultural imports.

"I said: 'Guys, I'm going to raise the issue of agriculture,'" Mr. Martin recalls. "'I would like you guys to really have at each other.' And they did, magnificently. Manuel was terrific, and so was Larry, and that really set the tone. All of a sudden there were no-holds-barred discussions."

Mr. Summers, who is now Barack Obama's Director of the National Economic Council, remembers that debate. "Paul really did force, as chair, the acknowledgment of elephants in rooms," he says. "He was very good that way."

That was Paul Martin's great success. Gordon Thiessen, former Governor of the Bank of Canada

"We actually had … debates going across the table. It was one of the best international meetings I was ever at."

Canada further strengthened its role by hosting the third meeting in November of 2001. India had been supposed to play host, but in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, no one wanted to fly that far; the Americans refused to go overseas at all. So the club met in Ottawa, where the ministers developed an action plan to combat the financing of terrorist organizations - something the smaller group of developed countries could never have done on their own. The G20's legitimacy grew.

Gradually, the G8 leaders began to concede, at least implicitly, that their own small club was becoming unfashionable. At Evian in 2003, French President Jacques Chirac invited 11 Third World nations to discuss development.

James Wolfensohn, who was then the head of the World Bank, was there, and recalls a moment that presaged a changing of the guard, involving Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil.

"President Lula, in a very charming way, said: 'Listen, you guys, it's very good of you to invite us here. But maybe you should hold next year's meeting in Rio, so that you can get used to the fact that in five or 10 years time, four or five of you are not going to be here.'"

'I go to too many meetings already'

By 2004, when Mr. Martin became prime minister, he wanted the G20 to become more than a forum for finance ministers to co-ordinate support for the global economy. He wanted to expand it, on the model of the G8, to include the leaders of developing countries. The new gathering would supplement, not replace, the G8. It could meet regularly or on an ad-hoc basis. It could be based on the G20, or there could be additions or deletions.

Countries outside the G8, not surprisingly, were eager from the start. On Dec. 11, 2003, the day before he was sworn in as prime minister, Mr. Martin met in Ottawa with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. In January, 2005, Mr. Martin visited India to discuss the idea with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had complained publicly about being invited to attend G8 meetings like a supplicant before his betters. Brazil's Mr. da Silva had echoed the protest.

But within the G8, it was another story. Its supporters pointed out that the club had been doing a pretty good job of containing inflation, managing exchange rates and essentially guiding the global economy for more than two decades.

Mr. Martin recalls that when he dined with Junichiro Koizumi in Tokyo two days prior to his India visit, the Japanese prime minister's view was, "Okay, I will go along with this, but let's do it for one meeting and we'll see if it works."

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