India will underline the need for inclusivity and more diversity at the highly anticipated G20 leaders’ meeting on 9-10 September in New Delhi under the motto “One Earth, One Family, One Future”. In the run-up to the leaders’ summit, India’s G20 presidency has so far seen more than 200 meetings, held in 56 cities across the country, at a cost of more than $100 million.
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These were attended by nearly 30,000 delegates from 115 countries. The G20, formed in 1999, is a group of 20 of the world’s largest economies – 19 countries and the European Union. Spain is the permanent guest. Its annual summits started in 2008, to discuss and decide on global policy issues around trade, health, and climate, among others.
Previous summits have deliberated on financial crisis (2008), the Syrian civil war and the Covid-19 pandemic. But last year, the Russia-Ukraine war deepened divisions within the group’s members.
While Western countries like the United States have been keen to exclude Moscow, members such as China and Brazil are opposed to it. India, the host country, is officially taking the neutral stance, and has claimed that security issues are addressed by the UN Security Council, and that the G20 deals with “growth and development”. The summit, however, is expected to address food supply and energy security issues – both linked crucially to the Ukraine war.
India has also invited Bangladesh – the only other nation from South Asia beside India, as well as Egypt, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Singapore, Spain and the UAE besides G20 representatives.
India’s main focus is to push for “inclusive, equitable, sustainable growth” but it is walking a diplomatic tightrope with relations among many world powers strained. To begin with, Russian President Vlamidir Putin’s absence from both BRICS and G20 summits speaks volumes of the changing power dynamics within the region. Putin is also expected to skip the East Asia summit to be held in Jakarta later this year.
The primary reason for this is the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) arrest warrant against him over Ukraine war crimes, which puts any host country in a diplomatic soup if they were to attend to him at a global event. But Russia doesn’t recognise the ICC and India isn’t an ICC signatory either. So, Putin’s absence from G20 summit in Delhi is not just about the risk of getting arrested. “He doesn’t want to engage in a direct faceoff with the leaders of (Western) countries,” said geopolitical expert Prof Harsh V Pant, Vice President of studies and Foreign Policy at Observer Research Foundation, in a report published by Livemint. “The decision is symbolic of Russia’s isolation on the global stage as Putin is not able to visit even friendly nations now.”
The summit is being attended in person by major Western leaders including US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who have imposed heavy sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Besides the US and Russia, India and China have also witnessed strained ties over border clashes that began in 2020. Moreover, with Chinese President Xi Jinping confirmed to attend the summit in person, speculation is also rife of a face-to-face meeting between Jinping and Sunak, despite a knot in ties over Taiwan, Hong Kong and human rights concerns. Reaching a strong, meaningful consensus is therefore, a challenge.
Why is this significant? The main focal point of the leaders’ meet in September, is to adopt a G20 Leaders’ Declaration, a comprehensive 50-page document that solidifies the leaders’ commitment to the priorities discussed during ministerial and working group meetings throughout the year. It remains to be seen if that is something India can achieve under its presidency banner.
WHY DOES THE G20 MATTER?
Despite the challenges in geopolitical equations, the larger and more important goal for the G20 is the welfare of billions of people across the world. Together, the G20 nations comprise more than 60% of the world’s population, and nearly 85% of the world’s economic output, according to data by the World Bank. In comparison, the G7 – the group of seven of the world’s most advanced economies – collectively accounts for over 32% of the world’s economic output. This places G20 in a very enviable position on the world scale.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN INDIA THIS YEAR?
The leaders’ summit is expected to show some agreement on many fractured issues. For instance, India has consistently appealed to raise the voice and the prominence of the global South. This is expected to reach a stronger consensus this year. According to India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, G20’s core mandate of “economic growth and development cannot be advanced unless concerns of the global South are addressed,” he said addressing a B20 (Business 20) gathering under the G20 recently. The declaration is also expected to agree on the African Union becoming a full member of the G20, something that the US President Joe Biden had also agreed to, last year.
According to experts, more specific issues around public health, agriculture, trade-related payments, digital data protection, and climate change would also make it to the leaders’ declaration. There could also be more consensus on the world’s sovereign debt crisis. As of a few months ago, 39 low-income countries were in or near debt distress, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). “More than 60 countries are in or near a debt distress,” said Robinder Sachdev, founder president of the Imagindia Institute headquartered in Delhi. Speaking to PressXpress, Sachdev said G20 countries “need to do more” in this area, and should actively support economic recovery policies that reduce inequality.
Overall, the main areas of G20 agenda also include: green development, climate financing, energy transitions, sustainable development goals, technological transformation, digital public infrastructure, blue economy, multilateral institutions for the 21st century, and women-led development.
‘G20 NEEDS TO DO MORE FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND FOOD SECURITY’
As Delhi prepares to host one of the biggest events in the world, the G20 Summit, with highprofile dignitaries from 20 leading economies coming together to deliberate on critical global issues, we take stock of where the grouping is headed with Robinder Sachdev, founder director of Delhi-based think tank Imagindia and an international policy expert. In an exclusive interview to PressXpress’ Tulika Bhatnagar, Sachdev spoke about G20’s utility, what it needs to do more, and whether the leaders’ declaration in 2023 would have anything substantially different from what was included in the Bali Declaration of last year.
EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW
The Bali Declaration of the G20 Leaders’ Summit in 2022 was big on climate action and food security. Over the last year, what measures have you seen the G20 leaders take in these areas?
SACHDEV: The world of today is rebooting. It is moving towards a new world matrix, not just a new world order, as is commonly referred to. That’s the way I look at it. With the Covid pandemic as the backdrop, and the Russia-Ukraine war, and the ongoing US-China tensions, what is happening now is that any of these multilateral meetings, G20, G7 or BRICS, have taken on a newer and deeper meaning as compared to before 2020.
But coming to your question, the progress in the areas of climate action and food and energy security has not been good enough. Look at the Ukraine grain deal for example. Russia’s withdrawal from the agreement, which allowed ships to sail through the Black Sea to export millions of tonnes of grain to the rest of the world. Prices of wheat have gone up 10%.
Climate change has a higher impact on food security than we ever understood. G20 needs to do a lot more in this area
What does it do to food security? What has also happened is the realisation that climate change is affecting food security. Look at Pakistan floods for example in the last one year. Almost one-third of the country was under water. It is Pakistan’s worst floods in living memory, affecting 33 million people and costing $30 billion in infrastructure damage and economic losses. More than 10 million people in Pakistan are experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity.
Climate change has a higher impact on food security that we ever understood and this is becoming clearer now. On the other hand, a recent report by the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD) think tank has said that G20 member nations last year provided a record $1.4 trillion – more than double that of pre-Covid levels – to support fossil fuels that have fanned global warming, despite previous pledges to phase out subsidies. So definitely, G20 needs to do a lot more in this area.
What are your key expectations from the 2023 Leaders’ Declaration?
SACHDEV: There will be talk about peace and co-existence of course. Also, growing attention to the global South. There are about 60-odd countries who are overly leveraged and whose central banks are under immense pressure. An economic collapse would have a ripple effect. So, G20 Leaders’ Declaration must focus on how to mitigate the dangers of low-income or even developing countries going through a meltdown due to their debts.
G20 must push for reforms of the IMF and the World Bank. These institutions need to work on de-risking their bailout packages and strengthen the financial institutions in high-risk countries that seek financial aid
Another area, I don’t know how much it would reflect in the Communique but one that I would like to see action on, is that the G20 must push for reforms of multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. These institutions need to work on de-risking their (economic) bailout packages and strengthen the financial institutions in high-risk countries that seek financial aid.
Ukraine continues to be a contentious issue. Earlier this year, the G20 foreign ministers summit failed to achieve a consensus over sharp differences between the West, Russia, and China. What will happen at the Leaders’ Summit?
SACHDEV: Probably the same as what happened last year. Positions of various countries in this issue are reasonably well-known by now. Last year, the declaration said ‘most countries strongly condemned the war’ and was approved by all members of the bloc. This year too, I suppose we’ll see nothing very different from that. G20 is primarily an economic forum. Traditionally, the United Nations should be playing a bigger role in such issues but now G20 is spreading its wings into other areas also.
India’s focus during its G20 presidency has also been on the use of “data for development”. But India lacks a robust domestic framework for data protection. It’s a big friction point among G20 members as well. What’s your take on this?
SACHDEV: Well, we just introduced the digital data protection bill in August. So that’s a huge step in the right direction. It is the first such act in India but it is for personal data. If you talk about crossborder free data flow that India has been pushing for in the G20 agenda, then it is through the use of the digital public goods (like Aadhaar in India). The use of data for development will depend on how we use it, regulate it, and let it flow across the borders.
What should be the priorities for the next stage of work in cross-border payments, an area that continues to be slow and expensive?
SACHDEV: One is settlement between countries for trade. The trend, which is catching up here is trading in local currencies, a big focus for the BRICS. For G20, it may not be so much of a focus. The challenge though, is how do you settle trade in local currencies. For example, take India-Russia business. We are doing rupee-rouble trade but we have more than $30 billion of money that we need to pay Russia. But we are not able to pay in rupee. Russia doesn’t want to hold rupee – it is asking to be paid in Chinese yuan or dihram.
Russia, India trade last year was about $45 billion of which we exported only $5 billion. We imported $40 billion and most of it is oil. So for cross-border payments in trade, the challenge is for countries to improve their trade imbalance. In terms of retail payments, India’s UPI is amongst the most successful payment systems worldwide. Interlinking of payment systems with other countries within the G20 would be a positive step in enhancing cross-border payments.
DECKING UP FOR THE WORLD
As the clock ticks down to the concluding summit of India’s G20 presidency, New Delhi is rushing to meet its ambitious targets to deck up the capital city ahead of the delegations’ arrival. A recently inaugurated ‘Bharat Mandapam’ (India pavilion) has been built at a cost of over $90 million. It will be the main venue for the summit, covering an area of 18,000 sq ft, and displaying India’s traditional art forms and legends.
The city authorities have also taken steps to clean up major parts of city, placing hundreds of thousands of flower pots on the streets, and decorating walls and flyovers with street murals and graffiti. “The hype and excitement around India’s G-20 presidency is unlike anything I’ve ever seen with any other country that has hosted the summit,” said Milan Vaish – nav, senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at Carn – egie Endowment for International Peace, Washington. “What Modi has managed to do, which very few politicians have done in India, is make foreign policy a domestic political issue,” he told Washington Post.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR BANGLADESH?
Bangladesh is the only South Asian nation among nine nations invited as guests by India for the G20 Summit. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will visit Delhi for the leaders’ summit, and meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the summit. According to analyst Sohini Bose, junior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), it is a period of ‘Sonali Adhyay’ or the Golden Chapter in Indo-Bangla relations. “India’s invitation to Bangladesh as its guest speaks volumes of the high priority the country accords its immediate eastern neighbour and ‘best friend’ in the neighbourhood,” she said in a commentary piece for the ORF.
Listing the major reasons behind the invite, Bose said, in 2021-22, Bangladesh emerged as India’s largest trading partner in South Asia and India is Bangladesh’s second-largest trading partner and its largest export market in Asia. On the other hand, Bangladesh is not only the ideal gateway for India’s northeast, but also a central pillar in India’s Neighbourhood First and Act East Policies.
As India tries to shape the global agenda through G20, it needs Bangladesh’s support, to translate many of these ideas into action, experts say. Shahadat Hossain, a researcher at the South Asian University, told local media ETV Bharat in an article that India may also nurture the intent to enhance Bangladesh’ presence on the global stage, offering an “alternative alignment instead of Chinese leadership on the international platform”. India’s invite also has an addition – al weight as both the countries are headed for general elections in the next few months.
Earlier this year, PM Hasina made her mark on the G20 platform by placing six proposals to be addressed collectively for sustainable growth and development of the global South. She called for South-South cooperation and exceptional financial support for vulnerable countries among other proposals. Bangladesh’ participation in the leaders’ summit therefore, is bound to usher in a new era of opportunities, be it for more sustainable investments from developed countries, or renewable energy projects, or initiating economic partnerships with other countries besides India. Overall, G20 plays an important role in advancing international cooperation – and for Bangladesh, it will pose a significant opportunity to level up and play a bigger role at the Asian and global platforms.