The G20 is made up of the world's 19 largest economies plus the European Union.
The minister says the real test will be how the forum operates outside of crisis mode.
He says the G20 needs to do more to address the challenge of food security by encouraging its members to wind back trade subsidies.
Presenter: Joanna McCarthy
Speaker: Craig Emerson, Australian Trade Minister
McCARTHY: The Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson says the emergence of the G20 reflects the shifting of global economic power towards Asia. The forum includes China, India, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Australia. And together, the 19 member nations account for 85 per cent of the world economy and 80 per cent of global trade.
Mr Emerson says since it emerged in 2008, it's played the leading role in responding to turbulent economic times.
EMERSON: Already, the G20 has proven its worth. In 2008, it proved a critical mechanism for global action. The G20 was used towards stabilising global financial markets and then, to coordinate extraordinary fiscal and monetary stimulus packages worth US dollars, five trillion. These actions headed off a depression and saved millions of jobs.
McCARTHY: But he says there are challenges the G20 is yet to meet. The World Bank has found that rising food prices pushed another 44 million people into extreme poverty last year. And Craig Emerson says greater trade reform is desperately needed.
EMERSON: Take the opportunity to eliminate export subsidies, because they're very big, or they're non-existent, so let's get them out in the WTO. Put very severe caps on the farm subsidies, and then improving access to each other country's markets, through reductions in tariffs and quotas. Why do we do that? Because that then allows the market to seek out the most productive places on earth, for producing food which means more food gets produced at lower prices. That's the objective - more food, lower prices. Let the market rule.
McCARTHY: With a PHD in economics and a long career in public policy, Craig Emerson is the Australian government's staunchest advocate of trade liberalisation. It's a position that's sometimes put him at odds with members of the left faction in his own party. But he remains committed to his vision of a global free market.
And he hopes Australia's participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership will take that a step closer to reality. The multilateral free trade deal includes Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. And Australia, the United States, Malaysia, Vietnam and Peru are also negotiating to join.
EMERSON: I think the range of possibilities is, we call a "gold standard, truly liberalising" trade deal which can expand, over time, so that it's not founded on the principle of preferential treatment or discrimination, but it's founded at least on the idea of non-discrimination, which occurs as its membership expands over time - ultimately to a free trade area of Asia and the Pacific, which ultimately could, as another way of getting to a successful conclusion on global trade negotiations, create the impetus for other countries to then say, "Well, we'd better get on board." It could end up as being just a trophy on the national mantelpiece, and we're not interested in that.
McCARTHY: And nor does Craig Emerson want a G20 that loses momentum in the longer term. He says the group was at its best during the GFC - but the question is how it will perform outside of an economic crisis.
EMERSON: And the question will be, whether leaders look forward to the G20 meeting and say, "I want to talk to the leader of China at this meeting, and the leader of Brazil and so on," or whether they go "Ugh, God, we've gotta go to the G20, APEC, you know.. " And if it's like that, then the officials do all the work, and the leaders would just agree to a communique and have lunch. Now, we don't want that to happen. It really has to be a forum for deep thinking and decision-making. So, the jury's out, but the potential's great.