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QUEST MEANS BUSINESS

G20 Striking a Balance; G20 Economic Tensions; G20 Consensus or Conflict?; G20's Challenges; More Middle East Protests; Whaling Season Cut Short; Obama's Social Network

Aired February 18, 2011 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


RICHARD QUEST, HOST: Sarkozy warns the G20 they must not fail. He believes a deal can be done. I'm Richard Quest, live in Paris, where yes, I mean business.

The Champs Elysees. It is Friday evening just after eight o'clock. The early diners are headed out. The G20 are having their own meeting and their own dinner, as they start the beginning of their summit.

Good evening from Paris.

The message from President Sarkozy: find the balance or die. The French president has told the G20 ministers that the organization could be snuffed out if countries pursue national interests instead of acknowledging that there are imbalances between them and doing something to sort them out.

The G20 finance ministers and central bankers have a very specific task this weekend. They're here to draw up ways of measuring those imbalances between mismatched economies, to protect them from clashes over currency and trade. Indicators have been in the works since the summit last Seoul in November. Here's what the leaders declared then: they said, "These indicative guidelines composed of a range of indicators would serve as a mechanism to facilitate timely identification of large imbalances that require preventive and corrective action to be taken."

The key words there are "indicative guidelines" and "imbalances." Now, in plain English, it means finding new ways of spotting when countries are starting to build up unsustainable economies. Creating a level playing field and taking the necessary action to sort things out.

The French president and the current G20 president gave his support to a whole raft of controversial proposals, including the financial tax.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICOLAS SARKOZY, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (through translator): Speaking for France, we believe that the tiny levial (ph) tax on financial transactions would be useful, effective -- I know it's going to be difficult. I know, Tim, this is something that puts people's hackles up. And I know that this requires -- and I know full well that this requires complicated debates in each of our countries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUEST: Nicolas Sarkozy. We'll hear more from him on what he told the G20 summit here later in the program.

For a look at what happens, though, this week weekend, when the ability of the G20 to actually agree those indicators, I turned to the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Wayne Swan, who also happens to be the Finance Minister. And I wanted to know did he think a deal could be done this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUEST: Minister, the G20 will be meeting finance ministers. In what is an otherwise very large agenda -- but there are some specifics that you wish to focus on this weekend, aren't there, that are actually more important?

WAYNE SWAN, TREASURER, AUSTRALIA: Yes. We're going to focus on the find work (ph), sustained balance, and strong growth, so there's some discussion about what indicators we will use, the signposts that we will use to indicate where the challenges are in the global economy as a way of coming to a conclusion about policies that can be put in place to deal with those economic imbalances.

QUEST: Which indicators do you favor -- because there are a wide range of them -- if you had to choose one?

SWAN: Well, I'm not choosing one. There are a range of indicators that will be discussed in these discussions over the weekend. I'm not going to preempt the outcome of that discussion. It's an important discussion. Important for the G20 to get the framework right. So I'll be here listening to what all of my colleagues have to say.

QUEST: Do you think that there are still tensions within the 20 over this idea of having indicators and allowing one country to look at another, whether it's the IMF?

SWAN: Well, I think there'll be a healthy discussion about all that, but we can't forget what the end point is here. And the endpoint is what do we do? What structural reforms are put in place, across all of the economies, developed and developing, which lead to a reduction in those economic imbalances over time? There's no magic solution here, but a range of reforms over time that can deal with these challenges.

QUEST: As we look at the G20 process, it seems to be becoming more tortuous, as to speed growth in different economy moves on.

SWAN: Well, it's correct to say that we have a two-speed economy or a patchy global economy. Very strong growth, particularly in Asia-Pacific and among emerging economies. Very sluggish growth, particularly in Europe. We do see a recovery in the US. That does make this a very complex discussion because of the different pace that you see in the economies around the world.

QUEST: The two-speed growth that currently exists between G20 members for growth, do you think that still means the G20 is the viable forum for this?

SWAN: I think it reinforces the need for the G20 to be very active to ensure that the recovery progresses. Because what's at stake here, we need to lift global growth. It's particularly the case with high levels of unemployment in some developed economies, and also we need to make sure that the growth that we're seeing in the emerging economies is sustainable over time. Getting the balance right is what we've got to do.

QUEST: If we can, if we may, to Australia, which of course has been beset by such dreadful weathering calamities, it's clearly going to have an effect on economic growth, isn't it?

SWAN: They will have an impact. But natural disasters aside, the Australian economy is in great shape. Very healthy growth. Very strong investment pipeline. Very low unemployment, five percent. Half that level of unemployment in the Euro side. Very, very strong economy. We'll put a slight hint of growth in the March quarter, but the outlook still remains really strong. We're open for business.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUEST: Wayne Swan, Australia's treasurer and also the Deputy Prime Minister.

One of the leaders in the discussions leading up to this G20 has been Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, and he is one of the people who will have to try and bridge that consensus. Come to some decision on the indicators that will be indicative if there are imbalances growing. It's highly technical stuff, but I asked the minister was he convinced that they could actually reach consensus?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUEST: What, for you, is going to be what this G20 is all about, do you think?

JIM FLAHERTY, FINANCE MINSTER, CANADA: We need to make clear progress on the sustainable growth agenda. On the framework, that's what our leaders told us to do when they met in Seoul, at the summit. Canada and India are in charge of developing the indicators to deal with global imbalances. We've done our work, and now we need to get a consensus here in support of those indicators.

QUEST: How do you take that from jargon to reality? Is that's -- there's a framework for stability and growth that's been around a while now. But it's putting flesh on those bones that's the difficulty.

FLAHERTY: That's exactly it. And there's three stages: one, to agree on the indicators, what they are -- and there's not agreement yet on that; secondly, to develop the guidelines and get agreement on that when we meet in April; and then thirdly, have the leaders agree on the mechanism, how we go forward with the mutual assessment process when they meet in November.

So there's three straight stages here. They're all practical, they're all pragmatic, they need to be accomplished.

QUEST: Finally, are you -- do you think that something can come out of this meeting in Paris this weekend?

FLAHERTY: I think we have a reasonable prospect of agreement on the indicators. There's going to be some debate about the content of the indicators, and, you know, the reserves and foreign exchange. But that's important. That's why we're here. We're supposed to be the leading economic forum, so let's have a debate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUEST: Well, so far, in this leading economic forum, on this program, you've heard the views from Australia, the Australia-Pacific region. That of course, North America from the Canadian Finance Minister. What about the Europeans? Does Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the ECB, believe that a deal can be done?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUEST: What will be your biggest -- what are you hoping to come out of this weekend's G20 meeting?

JEAN-CLAUDE TRICHET, PRESIDENT, ECB: Well, as always, I think that what is extremely important -- that we all compare notes. The main interest is that we can inform absolutely all the international community at the level of these systemic countries in order to be sure that we have the same level of information with the feeling of all partners. That's the main one.

QUEST: Do you think that you will be able to reach some form of consensus on indicators this weekend? Or do you think it'll be pushed further down?

TRICHET: I will give you a rendezvous with my press briefing tomorrow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUEST: Needless to say, president Trichet not giving anything away. But the rumor, of course, is that there is a deal on the table, and the communique does ask things like trade, exchange rates, and certain fiscal imbalances. Some believe that that won't be enough.

The market. Let's wrap up how the markets ended this week. And start in Europe, where European stocks -- they were little changed when all was said and done at the end of the week. Closed two and a half year high, and weighing of course on today's dealings was a report quoting the ECB policymaker, who syndicated that the bank may need to raise rates to counter global inflation repression. Many stocks among today's biggest losers.

China raised its banks' reserve requirements ratio, a form of tightening to help rein in inflation.

Onto the US market and the Dow Jones industrials. Incidentally, here in Paris, we have both Tim Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, and Ben Bernanke, who is here. Ben Bernanke saying at the G20 preliminary meeting that inflows of capital were largely or partly responsible for the crisis.

The Dow is up 49 points: 12,367.

When we come back in just a moment, the G20 has a very wide agenda. But it doesn't all happen in one meeting, as I'll show you after the break. There are meetings, and meetings, oh, and more meetings. QUEST MEANS BUSINESS in Paris.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

QUEST: Good evening from Paris, where this weekend, finance ministers and central bankers of the G20 are meeting. They are aiming to put flesh on the bones of the variety of communiques that have come out in recent years.

The global leaders themselves set a very firm target for the ministers. They had to come up with indicators to show when the next crisis is about to happen. But as any student of the G20 knows, it's been a long, tortuous process getting this far.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUEST: The G20 playing happy families. Behind the smiles, the pressure is mounting.

SARKOZY (through translator): The G20 that doesn't take decisions is a G20 that loses its legitimacy.

QUEST: There have been five G20 leader summits in the past two and a half years. They've shown what's possible in a crisis.

Washington, November 2008, called at the height of the global financial meltdown. Leaders set the stage to coordinate policies, staving off financial ruin. They recognized emerging economies as part of the plan.

Six months later, London. Now they're talking numbers. The leaders pledged to treble the IMF resources to $750 billion. Time now to tackle the banks.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As I speak, we are on the cusp of enacting be toughest financial reforms since the Great Depression.

QUEST: Pittsburgh. And talk is on new rules to raise bank capital and stop excessive risk-taking. There's also a power shift at the IMF, with more seats going to emerging economies.

By June 2010, the leaders are in Toronto, and the mood's changing. The G20 has tackled the crisis, and now it's time to take on the recovery. A worrying new reality is to speed growth.

STEPHEN HARPER, PRIME MINISTER, CANADA: Advanced countries must send a clear message that as our stimulus plans expire, we will focus on getting our fiscal houses in order.

QUEST: Fast-forward to Seoul, South Korea, in November. A rift between economies are widening. Big trade deficits in some countries, ballooning budget deficits in others. The G20 sets the stage for clear, indicative guidelines to correct these imbalances.

JOSE MANUEL BARROSO, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: Now we are launching a cooperative process of assessing, of having a benchmark.

QUEST: In all of this, the leaders take the glory. The finance ministers do most of the work. The thin mint (ph) to-do list is eye- watering.

Number one, deal with two-speed growth. Number two, currency imbalances that threaten to break out into protectionism. Three, tackle inflation, the Achilles heel of the recovery. And finally, the Doha Round. Nearly 10 years after the trade talks started, the G20 leaders believe it's now or never.

PASCAL LAMY, DIRECTOR GENERAL, WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION: They want to get it done. Now, does this mean that they will crack all the remaining middle knot (ph)? Not sure. But the thing is clearly accelerating.

QUEST: With such different economies and different priorities, the G20 must now reach the toughest goal of all: consensus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUEST: Now joining me to put this into perspective on a pleasant, I think, evening, Friday evening, Christian Malard, senior foreign analyst in France 3, the television network here.

First of all, Nicolas Sarkozy this evening, he's still banging on about his transaction tax, which he knows most of the G20 want to have nothing to do with. Is he off message?

CHRISTIAN MALARD, SENIOR FOREIGN ANALYST, FRANCE TV 3: I don't know whether I'd say he's off message, but at the same time, I think he's -- he was not particularly optimistic tonight in the kind of message he wanted to deliver. Because he's talking about the topping tax (ph) on the financial transactions, and he means that the G20 should be cooperation, helping the poor, at the same time. So he puts his transaction on the table, but if we don't do it -- only France and Germany are OK on that, which means the 18 others disagree. So it cannot work this way.

This is why when he said if people want to look at their own interest, it's the end of the G20. It's part of the message he delivered tonight. And I think it's very pessimistic.

QUEST: But is he right to be pessimistic in that sense? I mean, is he trying to put -- as opposed -- is he trying to put the bush (ph) under them to get this deal done?

MALARD: Yes. He's really putting pressure, but at the same time, I think he's realistic, because he realizes that the Chinese play their own music. The Americans play their own music. And we need everybody to play the same music.

QUEST: But he has one really big problem, doesn't he, here? And that is he has Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is at the same table.

MALARD: Yes. Well, he is the IMF man, the key guy for the IMF, the future. And it is true that everybody focuses on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, DSK, as you call him. And DSK, is he going to be running for president?

QUEST: Is he going to run, do you think?

MALARD: If you ask my own personal --

QUEST: Your own personal opinion.

MALARD: I think yes. Because two messages: his wife. Look always at the wife behind the man. The wife said, I don't want him to run for a second mandate at the IMF. Each one answer (ph). Today says, I leave France. It may be another answer. So I would be betting -- I would say he goes.

QUEST: Here in France, which of course the country is suffering elements of austerity, maybe not such as the UK, but it's here and there is political dissent against the government's policies.

MALARD: I think that's true. The people -- Sarkozy is very unpopular now. If you see the polls of opinion, DSK as you mentioned --

QUEST: Who would win?

MALARD: -- be winning very easily. Second round, 61 for DSK, 39 for Sarkozy. So right now, DSK is very popular. He's a man who is considered as being able to run the situation, to run the crisis, and Sarkozy has been unpopular because he has been taking drastic steps, drastic decisions, which the press disagree with.

QUEST: Finally, how -- what do you imagine -- and I know you're not in the room --

MALARD: No.

QUEST: -- but what do you imagine is the body language and the atmosphere between DSK and Sarkozy? They've obviously known each other --

MALARD: Oh, yes.

QUEST: -- for decades.

MALARD: Probably Sarkozy would tell him, I would be so happy, Dominique, if you could stay another mandate in Washington at the IMF.

QUEST: Many thanks indeed.

MALARD: Thanks.

QUEST: Thanks. Christian Malard, putting perspective to the issues at the G20.

When we come back in just a moment, we'll turn our attention to issues in Bahrain and the latest events there and update you. This is QUEST MEANS BUSINESS. We're live in Paris.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

QUEST: And the building there that you're looking at, of course, the Champs-Elysees on a Friday evening here in Paris.

Good evening to you. QUEST MEANS BUSINESS coming to you -- we're from Paris, where the G20 will be holding its meetings.

Let's turn our attention to Bahrain where the royal family now isn't standing idly by as the nation descends into chaos, some say anarchy.

The Crown Prince is offering and all of branch to protesters, promising to open a national dialogue when calm is finally restored. State television has aired a prerecorded interview with the Crown Prince.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SALMAN BIN HAMAD BIN ISA AL KHALIFA, CROWN PRINCE, BAHRAIN (through translator): I express my condolences to all the people of Bahrain for the painful day we are giving. I wish to direct a message of calm to all from its fellow citizen and a man.

We need a period to assess the situation and regain our humanity and our civilization and our future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUEST: The Crown Prince of Bahrain.

One of the major complaints in Bahrain has been that of corruption. It's at the heart of much once of what's been taking place. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been accused of siphoning off state funds out of his country, as Nima Elbagir reports. When we talk about corruption, the people believe now it's their turn to speak out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIMA ELBAGIR, REPORTER, UNREPORTED WORLD: Protesters clashing with police in Bahrain this week, the latest tremor of unrest to shake the Middle East and North Africa.

At its heart, dissatisfaction over unemployment, poverty, and corruption. The most recent casualty was Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. Seen here prior to stepping down, he was accused by opponents for years of siphoning state funds, something he's always denied. Egypt's new military leaders have asked foreign governments to freeze the assets of several former Egyptian officials, but authorities didn't indicate whether Mubarak's name was on that list.

Campaigners say it is not enough to attempt to recover the assets of officials suspected of corruption. Government should be doing more to stem what they're calling "the flood of illicit capital" coming into financial centers in the European Union and the US.

Anthea Lawson from Global Witness says that the financial system isn't doing enough.

ANTHEA LAWSON, SENIOR INVESTIGATOR, GLOBAL WITNESS: If we look at the priorities that the regulators seem to be focused on, the big fines that are received tend to be for banks that have busted sanctions, that are involved in terrorist finance money, and sometimes drugs money. We don't see the same big fines for corrupt money. People can hide their identity behind front companies and trusts.

If they do this in a variety of different jurisdictions, they can separate themselves sufficiently from their funds so that they can retain overall control while making it very hard to identify who they really are.

ELBAGIR: Raymond Baker, director of the think tank Global Financial Integrity, believes the problem lies in governments' tolerance of banking secrecy.

RAYMOND BAKER, DIRECTOR, GLOBAL FINANCIAL INTEGRITY: We like the money. We like the money that comes to us. We in the West have, in fact, created and expanded the system that facilitates the flow of this illicit money. Tax havens, for example, have grown from just a handful in the 1950s to more than 60 around the world.

ELBAGIR: But some countries maintain they're doing their part to cut the flow of illicit funds, including Switzerland. The Swiss say they've returned nearly $2 billion in tainted assets to their home countries. And in a preemptive move, they announced that they have moved to freeze any assets that might belong to former president Hosni Mubarak or his family.

Meanwhile, Britain's foreign secretary told parliament they would cooperate with Egypt's request to freeze the assets of former government officials, as they did in the case of Tunisia, although he did not specifically mention Mubarak.

In the Middle East and North Africa, protests are continuing. After decades of corruption, they are demanding reforms and their money back. Nima Elbagir, CNN London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUEST: Now, they don't call Paris "The City of Lights" for nothing, as you can tell with the lights behind me. But from The City of Lights, in 30 minutes' time, we'll be taking you to the bright lights of the entertainment world. The Academy Awards are just nine days away. There's been plenty of buzz about one of the most likely contenders for the big gong. It is of course "The King's Speech." In a long-awaited interview, Colin Firth joins Piers Morgan on "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT." A red carpet edition, thirty minutes from now, right after QUEST MEANS BUSINESS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

QUEST: Hello. I'm Richard Quest, QUEST MEANS BUSINESS. This is CNN. And on this network, the news always comes first.

We start with news from Bahrain where the opposition is promising more demonstrations and funeral processions on Saturday, after violent clashes between protesters and security forces.

Crowds faced gunfire and tear gas when they tried to regroup. At least three people are killed, and dozens are wounded. Now angry crowds are now gathering at the hospital. The Crown Prince is promising a national dialogue as soon as calm is restored.

Protest clashes in Yemen on Friday as well. Thousands turned out in Yemeni cities, saying they don't trust the longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh. They want him out. Pro-government groups have been showing up with knives and sticks, and beating the demonstrators. This amid only weak attempts to stop the violence.

Japan's Antarctic whaling fleet is returning home after the government cut the winter hunt short by a month. Officials say they made the move because of dangerous actions by the animal rights group Sea Shepherd. It's the first time Japan has canceled the season since shifting from commercial whaling to what it calls "research whaling."

Well, the program tonight comes to you from Paris, where the G20 finance ministers and central bankers are going to try and get to grips with imbalances and actually come up with a list of indicators that they will use in the future. That's the theory.

Leading the G20, of course, is President Sarkozy and his finance Minister Christine Lagarde. CNN's Jim Bittermann spoke to Minister Lagarde to put into perspective the issues they face.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Madam Minister, you're going to be trying to bring together 20 countries which have very, very different views about the way the world economy should work. Somebody suggested that your job is a little bit like herding cats.

CHRISTINE LAGARDE, FINANCE MINISTER, FRANCE: I have no idea how successful I will be. But I'll certainly do my best to do exactly what you said, herding cats. You know, in my former life, I was chairman of Baker & McKenzie, an international, very large law firm. And I had 600 partners to organize, manage, guide. So I've have a bit of training in terms of herding cats, and I'll try to apply the same principle, which is include, include, include, and at some stage, conclude.

BITTERMANN: Some issues with the United States, for example, you have a lot of divergent views. How are you going to bring your positions closer together?

LAGARDE: Clearly, when we want to bring more stability on the markets, reduce the volatility on the price of raw materials, when we want to make sure that China is included in the game and not excluded -- I think it serves everybody's interests. Not only the interests of China, but also the interests of the United States.

Clearly, to have more predictability, more stability, and an inclusion of all key currencies, including the Renminbi, in the international currencies, I think it's in everybody's interest.

BITTERMANN: President Sarkozy made it clear that he wants to include social issues and agricultural issues in the G20. Is there a danger that the G20's just going to come become too diffused?

LAGARDE: We have a huge agenda. We have a lot to do. There's the financial regulation that we need to complete and put in place. There's the framework for growth, a growth that we want solid, balanced, sustainable -- because we need it to create jobs. We have the reform of the international monetary system. We have the volatility of the price of raw materials. And we have global governance.

So we've got a lot to do. Our plate is full. It's all very well talking about economy and finance, and we need that. But we need the outcome. We need food in people's plates, and we need jobs for those that don't have a job.

So I don't think it's irrelevant, and it doesn't mess up the issue. It really points us in the deliverables, as far as people are concerned, of the G20 process that needs to remain focused.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUEST: Jim Bittermann joins me now. The focus -- President Sarkozy, in his opening remarks today, he seems almost he got a little bit off message himself. I mean, they're here to talk about imbalances, and he's talking about development age.

BITTERMANN: Well, exactly. And I think one of the things that is going to be a lot of confusion about this conference to begin with is the fact that Sarkozy began the year here with his (INAUDIBLE) message. He had this incredible agenda, which included things like and agricultural conference among the G20 agricultural ministers, a social conference to talk about a lot of things that completely out of the realm of the G20.

And when you talk to people, like I asked Christine Lagarde -- she did a very good job, sort of, representing him, but you know, she has to do what the master says. So she (INAUDIBLE).

QUEST: Right. But how bad is the austerity and the hardship, if you like, within France? Here in Paris, the Champs-Elysees is delightful, the restaurants are full. But if you go elsewhere in this country, Jim --

BITTERMANN: It's pretty tough. The one thing you got to say, though, is the social cushion here is pretty elaborate, even now.

QUEST: But that's been cut back.

BITTERMANN: It is being cut back, but not as quickly as, say, in England. I think you see a lot less of the kind of cutbacks that you see in England. There are things gradually being cut back here; there are (INAUDIBLE) to the medical care system here. In the next few years, it's going to change, I think, in fairly rapid fashion. The hospitals are being changed, that sort of thing.

But the -- it's not the dramatic change you see elsewhere. It's still a big social cushion for most people.

QUEST: For President Sarkozy, having the G20 this year, he has to capitalize on it. As the -- the look in your face just said it all.

BITTERMANN: Listen. He is depending on this.

QUEST: Really. It's sad when you're depending on the G20.

BITTERMANN: Absolutely. He is depending on it because he hopes that this will restore his stature with the French people. Because the poll numbers are terrible, and he knows they're terrible. Strauss-Kahn, as Christian Malard said, can beat him hands down. So he's got to do something, and he's putting a lot of stock in the G20 to come out with something that looks good. And so he's really got a lot riding on this new agreement.

QUEST: Just remind us. When is the election? When is it held?

BITTERMANN: In May of next year.

QUEST: May of next year.

BITTERMANN: Of 2012.

QUEST: And if was held tomorrow?

BITTERMANN: It wouldn't look so good for Mister Sarkozy, I can tell you that. He would win tomorrow, only if DSK, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, does not run. But if he does --

QUEST: Jim, many thanks.

Jim Bittermann joining me here in Paris.

When we return in a moment, we'll go from Paris to the west coast of the United States. President Obama has been meeting some new friends: techie friends. After the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

QUEST: President Obama is naming Paul Otellini, the chief executive of Intel, as part of the panel that he's created on US jobs and competitiveness. The president arrived in Oregon on Friday. He was taken on a tour of the Intel factory, where he made the announcement. Otellini will join the president's council, which was created last month.

Technology, jobs, and how to give a boost to American innovation, where it's very much the subject of dinner conversation last night for Mister Obama and leaders of the technology industry. CNN's Maggie Lake is in New York tonight.

Maggie, when I saw who was 'round the table, it does raise an eyebrow or two.

MAGGIE LAKE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does, Richard. I mean, this is the brain trust, really -- incredible gathering. This is what you call a power meal. Not all of them friendly. Many of them fierce competitors, it should be pointed out. Another thing is you look there -- you can see the back of his head, Steve Jobs is getting a lot of attention as pictured today, partly because it's the first time we've seen the Apple founder, CEO, tech icon since he took his medical leave. A lot of rumors about the gravity of his health, even just this week. So to see him out publicly, certainly people paying attention.

On the other side of President Obama is Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, and some very funny social media traffic on this today. One of them saying, you know it was a big event when Zuck' drops the hoodie for a suit. You can see him there talking to Obama.

But very seriously, no surprise that President Obama gathered these people. Technology, high-tech, high-end jobs is exactly what Obama wants to see. It was the theme of his State of the Union address. When he talked about winning the future, he gathered them all to figure out how they can make that happen, how to get America to retain its competitive edge.

The problem is these companies are hiring. It doesn't exactly help the millions who are on unemployment who just simply don't have the skill set to match up with those kind of jobs. It's a big problem.

Obama says he has the solution, and that is education, which is why this week, in his budget proposal, we saw him suggest that we continue to spend in that area while cutting elsewhere.

Of course, what we see playing out in the state of Wisconsin, which is making big headlines this week, shows the problem that the states have with that kind of math. Major layoffs of teachers around the country because of the poor situation of state finances. And the Republicans have really been hitting back at Obama on that, saying, listen, we've got to get the deficit in order before we spend anywhere.

So lofty goals by the president. He's enlisting the top minds in tech, but it is a big problem and a big to political debate going on in the US. How do you retain your competitiveness while addressing the deficit? Richard?

QUEST: Maggie Lake, who is in New York for us tonight. Many thanks, Maggie.

Now, before we finish here tonight, I do want to take you back to President Sarkozy, who is the president of France -- that much you know -- but also the president of the G20 this year.

In his opening address to the finance ministers and the central bankers, President Sarkozy left no one in any doubt what he expects of their talks this weekend. And in a veiled reference to the uprisings elsewhere in the world, he said public opinion demanded they do something.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARKOZY (through translator): It is the public opinions of our peoples, those we represent, who expect their leaders to respond to the challenges that we collectively face. Yet we have a very ambitious agenda. But we are cautious, whilst being ambitious. These things now are in your hands. You are not allowed, you cannot fail, you cannot stand still. And we -- we, as in the presidency of the G20, cannot ignore each other's red lines.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUEST: President Sarkozy. And that is QUEST MEANS BUSINESS for tonight. I'm Richard Quest, reporting from Paris. Whatever you're up to this weekend, I hope it's profitable. I'll see you next week in London.

END