New Delhi: On a rainy Sunday in the national capital, this year’s Group of 20 (G20) Summit came to a conclusion with the world hailing India’s presidency of the intergovernmental forum over the last year.
The G20 comprises most of the world's largest economies, including both industrialised and developing countries. It accounts for around 80 per cent of gross world product (GWP), 75 per cent of international trade, two-thirds of the global population, and 60 per cent of the world's land area. This was the first time that India hosted the global summit.
So, why has India’s presidency of the global economic forum hailed across the world?
During India’s presidency, the G20 becomes G21 with the inclusion of the African Union (AU) though it has yet to be officially designated as such. When? We will have to wait for the official announcement from Brazil, which holds the next presidency. By including the 55-nation AU as a permanent member of the G20, India successfully managed to project itself as the voice of the Global South.
Soon after assuming the presidency, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised integrating the priorities of the African nations into the Group’s agenda. The G20 is an intergovernmental forum comprising 19 countries and the European Union (EU). Modi had written to all the leaders of the member countries to make the 55-nation AU a permanent member of the Group. Modi had made the appeal three months before the Leaders’ Summit of the G20 in New Delhi held on September 9-10.
After assuming the G20 presidency, India held a virtual summit of the Voice of the Global South (VoGS) in January this year. Around 120 countries attended the Summit that was held with the theme ‘Unity of Voice, Unity of Purpose’. Addressing the summit, Modi said that the Global South have the largest stakes in the future.
“Three-fourths of humanity lives in our countries,” he said. “We should also have an equivalent voice. Hence, as the eight-decade-old model of global governance slowly changes, we should try to shape the emerging order.”
India’s appeal received support from across the member states of the Group. Though Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping did not attend the Summit in New Delhi, both Moscow and Beijing supported the inclusion of the AU as a permanent member of the G20. Russia, as well as China, have key stakes in the African continent.
The AU represents a continent that hosts the world's largest free trade area and possesses abundant resources crucial for combating climate change. Ahead of the Summit, AU Chairperson and President of Comoros Azali Assoumani said that Africa needed industrialisation. He urged G20 member states to utilise African resources and manufacture products in Africa. At the same time, he gave the assurance that Africa would do whatever it takes to check immigration from its countries to European nations in the face of insecurity and poor economic conditions.
The New Delhi Declaration itself. Many said that it would not be possible given the Russia-Ukraine war. Though Putin did not attend the Summit personally, he deputed Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to represent Russia.
Would India be able to draw all member states of the G20 to a consensus on a document that will mention the war in Ukraine? After weeks, days and hours of negotiations, New Delhi managed to pull it off. Without mentioning Russia, the Declaration stated that “all states must act in a manner consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter in its entirety”.
“Reaffirming that the G20 is the premier forum for international economic cooperation, and recognising that while the G20 is not the platform to resolve geopolitical and security issues, we acknowledge that these issues can have significant consequences for the global economy,” the Declaration stated.
“We highlighted the human suffering and negative added impacts of the war in Ukraine with regard to global food and energy security, supply chains, macro-financial stability, inflation and growth, which has complicated the policy environment for countries, especially developing and least developed countries which are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic disruption which has derailed progress towards the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals of the UN). There were different views and assessments of the situation.”
In fact, addressing the media on Sunday afternoon after the conclusion of the Summit, Lavrov said that Russia appreciated India’s G20 presidency as it “didn’t allow the agenda to be Ukrainised”.
Though it was a side event, the announcement of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) and India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) has reshaped the global geopolitical and economic landscape.
Modi and US President Joe Biden co-chaired a special event on the PGII and IMEC on Saturday on the sidelines of the Summit. The event aimed at unlocking greater investment for infrastructure development and strengthening connectivity in its various dimensions between India, the Middle East and Europe. Leaders of the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Mauritius, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, along with the World Bank, participated in the event.
The PGII is a developmental initiative aimed at narrowing the infrastructure gap in developing countries as well as help towards accelerating progress on SDGs globally. The IMEC comprises an Eastern Corridor connecting India to the Gulf region and a Northern Corridor connecting the Gulf region to Europe. It will include a railway and ship-rail transit network and road transport routes.
Observers see this as a challenge to Chinese President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in more than 150 countries and international organisations. It is considered a centrepiece of Xi’s foreign policy. It forms a central component of Xi’s “Major Country Diplomacy”, which calls for China to assume a greater leadership role in global affairs in accordance with its rising power and status.
Observers and sceptics, mainly from non-participant countries, including the US, interpret it as a plan for a Sino-centric international trade network. Critics also blame China for putting countries participating in the BRI under debt traps. In fact, earlier this year, Italy became the first G7 country to pull out of the BRI.
When the new railway and shipping project proposed by the US becomes functional, it will further boost India’s connectivity needs as New Delhi is already investing in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). The INSTC is a 7,200-km-long multi-modal network of ship, rail, and road-route for moving freight between India, Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe. The route primarily involves moving freight from India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia via ship, rail and road.
The Global Biofuels Alliance (GBA) was launched at India’s initiative in an event on the sidelines of the Summit.
“The Alliance intends to expedite the global uptake of biofuels through facilitating technology advancements, intensifying utilisation of sustainable biofuels, shaping robust standard setting and certification through the participation of a wide spectrum of stakeholders,” the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement. “The alliance will also act as a central repository of knowledge and an expert hub. The GBA aims to serve as a catalytic platform, fostering global collaboration for the advancement and widespread adoption of biofuels.”
This is the second such initiative by India under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership to draw international cooperation for clean energy use. In 2015, following a proposal by Modi, the International Solar Alliance (ISA) was formed with its headquarters at Gurugram in India.
The ISA is an alliance of over 120 signatory countries, most being sunshine countries, which lie either completely or partly between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The primary objective of the alliance is to work for the efficient consumption of solar energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
Ahead of the Summit, Modi and US President held a bilateral summit in which the two leaders commended the progress in implementing the futuristic and wide-ranging outcomes of the Prime Minister’s historic state visit to the US in June 2023, including under the India-US Initiative for Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET). The leaders welcomed the sustained momentum in bilateral cooperation, including in the areas of defence, trade, investment, education, health, research, innovation, culture and people-to-people ties.
According to a joint statement issued following the meeting, the two leaders reiterated their support for building resilient global semiconductor supply chains, noting in this respect a multi-year initiative of Microchip Technology, Inc., to invest approximately $300 million in expanding its research and development presence in India and Advanced Micro Device’s announcement to invest $400 million in India over the next five years to expand research, development, and engineering operations in India.
Modi, Biden, Brazilian President Lula da Silva and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, met on the margins of the G20 Leaders’ Summit in New Delhi to reaffirm their “shared commitment to the G20 as the premier forum for international economic cooperation to deliver solutions for our shared world”.
“As the G20’s current and next three presidencies, we will build on the historic progress of India’s G20 presidency to address global challenges", a joint statement issued following the meeting read. "In this spirit, together with the World Bank President, we welcome the G20’s commitment to build better, bigger, and more effective multilateral development banks (MDBs). This commitment underscores what we can do, by working together through the G20, to support our people toward a better future.”