The G20 summit in Bali marked the end of Indonesia’s presidency of the grouping. India’s turn at the rotating presidency will begin officially on December 1.
G20 agenda and India’s themes
The Group of 20 is a non-treaty based organisation of 19 countries and the EU that traces its origins to the Asian financial crisis of 1997-99, when the G7 convened a meeting of finance ministers of a select group of countries and central bank governors from around the world to find ways to arrest the meltdown threatening to engulf the world. The broad objective of this grouping was to shore up the world’s economic and financial stability.
The 2008 financial crisis saw the group elevated to the summit level for the first time, and by consensus, play an important role in dealing with that turning point for the global economy. Since then, the agenda of G20 — described as representing 85 per cent of the global GDP, 75 per cent of global trade and 2/3rd of the world’s population — has expanded in scope to include dealing with humanitarian crises brought about by conflict and natural disasters, climate change, health, gender issues, and the transition to digitisation. The G20 has also established the Financial Stability Board to coordinate and monitor efforts in strengthening financial regulation.
In 2020, during Saudi Arabia’s presidency, Covid took centre stage, with two summits that year. It was preferred over WHO as the forum to deal with the outbreak. Member countries spearheaded the Debt Service Suspension Initiative by IMF and other development banks, and also launched other financial assistance for most vulnerable countries.
In 2021, the Italian presidency outlined economic recovery, swift response to the health crisis still gripping the world, with equitable access to vaccines and diagnostics, plus building resilience against similar shocks, and building a prosperous future through growth, innovation and digitisation. Italy’s theme was People, Planet and Prosperity.
In 2022, Indonesia’s theme was Recover Together, Recover Stronger, with the focus on global health, sustainable energy transition and environment, and digital transformation.
India theme for its presidency, unveiled earlier this month along with the official symbol of the lotus, is “One Earth, One Family, One Future”, but more specifics are awaited when it takes over the presidency on December 1.
“As President, India will have convening power and be able to shape the agenda of the G20 and of every meeting, of course in consultation with the others,” said Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia (retd), Distinguished Fellow at Gateway House. “India will continue with the agenda of the last three presidencies. The approach will be one of continuity with change, or continuity with novelty. Broadly, Indonesia’s agenda — health security, energy and environment, and digital governance — are close to India’s heart,” he said.
Representing global South
In recent months, India has repeatedly spoken about the global South, positioning itself as the voice of the developing world. Presenting India’s statement at the United Nations General Assembly in September, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar foreshadowed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks at Bali, when he said the global South was the most impacted by the “sharp deterioration in the international landscape”.
In a world struggling to cope with post pandemic economic challenges, the conflict in Ukraine had added rising costs, the scarcity of fuel, food and fertilisers, plus trade disruptions and diversions, he said, making a case for a negotiated diplomatic end to the war.
“As we begin the G20 presidency this December, we are sensitive to the challenges faced by developing countries. India will work with other G20 members to address serious issues of debt, of economic growth, food and energy security and particularly, of environment. The reform of governance of multilateral financial institutions will continue to be one of our core priorities,” he said, underlining India’s “steadfast commitment to South-South Cooperation”.
During a visit to Russia last month, he told his counterpart Sergey Lavrov that the global South was “in acute pain” due to the war, as he advocated dialogue and diplomacy.
The G20, many in India’s strategic community are suggesting, is India’s opportunity to take on the role of peace-maker on behalf of the South. Modi’s remarks at the Bali summit suggest that India might use its presidency in that direction.
“The onus of creating a new world order for the post-Covid period lies on our shoulders. I am confident that next year when the G20 meets in the holy land of Buddha and Gandhi, we will all agree to convey a strong message of peace to the world,” Modi said.
India is also readying to push for global consensus on maintaining stable supply chains for food and fertilisers to build food security globally, and for stable supplies of energy. Another item on the agenda, going by Modi’s remarks, might be to push the global North on its promise of climate finance and tech transfer to developing countries.
Modi’s reference to India’s development of Unified Payment Interface as having brought about a “digital revolution”, and the digital divide in the developing world indicated another likely big idea during India’s presidency: a lead role for India in transferring this technology to other countries.
“India is keen to take its digitised public goods architecture to developing countries, and the mission is to find funding for it. When we talk about India as a leader of the Global South, this may be one way to illustrate its implementation,” Amb. Bhatia said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks with Foreign Minister S Jaishankar at the G20 Leaders’ Summit, in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, Wednesday Nov. 16, 2022. (Willy Kurniawan/Pool Photo via AP, File)
The coming eight months
G20’s rotating presidency does not have a permanent secretariat. The president country every year sets up a temporary secretariat. The secretariat in Delhi is housed at the Sushma Swaraj Bhavan in Chanakyapuri. It came up earlier this year, and is headed by former foreign secretary Harsh V Shringla. The planning is done by the Troika, which comprises the past, present, and future presidents — in this case, Indonesia, India, and Brazil. The OECD also plays an advisory role.
Over the next eight months, India will host more than 200 official G20 meetings and a similar number of meetings of “engagement groups” comprising think tanks, private sector, and civil society .
The meetings are organised along two tracks, the “Finance Track” and the “Sherpa Track”. According to Amb. Bhatia, who has written extensively on India’s presidency, the first deals with economic issues through meetings of finance ministers and central bank governors . It has eight workstreams: Global Macroeconomic Policies, Infrastructure Financing, International Financial Architecture, Sustainable Finance, Financial Inclusion, Health Finance, International Taxation, and Financial Sector Reforms.
Each country has a sherpa, who co-ordinates other official meetings and working groups. Amitabh Kant, former CEO of Niti Aayog, is India’s sherpa. This track has 12 workstreams: anti-corruption, agriculture, culture, development, digital economy, employment, environment and climate, education, energy transition, health, trade and investment, and tourism.
Then there are the Engagement Groups — 20 each from business, civil society, labour, parliament, science, supreme audit institutions, think tanks, urban development groups, women and youth. The two most important from the point of view of policies are the Think 20 and the Business 20.
PM Modi has said meetings will be held in every Indian state, to give delegates a “full experience of India’s amazing diversity, inclusive traditions, and cultural richness”. It is not clear if that will include Jammu & Kashmir.
In addition to the 20 members, it is the G20 president’s prerogative to invite other countries. Officials have indicated participation of 20-25 other countries. For the Delhi summit on September 8-9, there could be as many as 45 official delegations over the engagement groups. Officials are scrambling to organise 12,000 rooms in four- and five-star hotels.