India’s Global Role during its G20 Presidency

By — Ratish Mehta;

The 2022 Grouping of 20 (G20) Summit took place against the backdrop of turbulent global challenges. At the meeting in Bali, Indonesia, the members collectively concluded to confront the global challenges posed to energy and food security, amongst other measures. The Russian-Ukraine war also saw greater emphasis by member nations and found its way into the joint statement made by leaders at the end of the summit. As the G20 moves forward with the implementation of discussed goals, India’s upcoming presidency of the G20 forum will be crucial in mitigating a unified response. The presidency will also create a rare opportunity for Delhi to lead a set of diverse agendas in line with India’s own global ambitions and values. How can this G20 Presidency shape India’s identity as a global leader and rising power?

The G20’s Relevance amid Global Challenges

The G20, in the subsequent years since its inception in 1999, has gained much significance due to its diversity in terms of representativeness. The grouping currently comprises of all the G7 countries, all BRICS nations, all the members from the MITKA forum (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia), Argentina, Saudi Arabia as well as the European Union. In addition to these members, important multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, WTO, and UN amongst others attend the meeting with Spain, ASEAN and the African Union as permanent guests.

The members of the forum collectively also comprise around 80 percent of the global economic output, 75 percent of global trade, 80 percent of the global carbon dioxide emissions and 70 percent of all plastic production. However, contrary to expectations, the implementation of the collective commitments made by members has generally remained stagnant. Apart from a joint effort from the head of governments to tackle the 2008 economic crisis by committing USD 4 trillion to revive the global economy, the subsequent summits have done little in terms of actions  on commitments made by the diverse consortium. The agenda of the meetings have only more recently begun to incorporate matters such as global climate mitigation and clean energy transition, indicative of the forum’s attempt to move with the changing times.

Contemporary regional and global challenges are arising at a time –and possibly due to the result of failure from multilateral institutions such as the United Nations (UN), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) amongst others in incorporating the interests of diverse groups. Prime Minister Modi’s address at the session on Food and Energy Security in Bali emphasised upon the need for reforms in such multilateral institutions. His asserted claim that these institutions had failed in mitigating global challenges primarily due to the lack of reforms in their structures, echoed India’s long-standing position for seeking reforms in multilateral institutions. The Prime Minister’s statement was also indicative of an important agenda that New Delhi would seek to emphasize upon during its upcoming G20 presidency.

Suggestions for India’s enduring global role at the G20

The year 2023 is poised to be a significant year for India’s leadership ambitions. The presidency of the G20 forum as well as the Shanghai Corporation Organisation (SCO) for India, brings with itself the rare opportunity to present to the world that India is well-prepared and well-equipped to claim its position as a rising power. The G20 forum’s presidency, in particular, has the potential to not only elevate India’s status as a dependable global leader but can also assert India’s role in global governance as well. As such, it should also be undertaken with a focus on longevity in terms of impact as well.

The theme of India’s presidency has been unveiled to revolve around ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam — One Earth, One Family, One Future, which reiterates the motto of collectively responding to global challenges. India’s leadership at the G20 apart from its agenda on Global Health, Digital Economy and Transformation, Climate Change, Food Security and Global Financial Stability should also focus on the immediate needs of its neighbourhood and the global south in expediating debt relief services. In the past year, countries in India’s neighbourhood such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan have sought financial assistance from the IMF as high oil prices due to the ongoing war in Ukraine have further stressed volatile economies in the region already struggling post-COVID-19. The scenario is worse for some low-income countries like Zambia, which managed to secure vital debt relief deals through G20’s initiative. The G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) which was established in May 2020, as well as the Common Framework for debt treatment, were steps in the right direction until they ran into internal as well as external obstacles.

The DSSI in particular expired in December 2021, after 43 countries applied for debt relief amounting to USD 13 billion in debt service suspensions. The relief provided to the low-income earning countries through the DSSI was however only a quarter of what was promised in April 2020. In its initial phase, the G-20 had envisioned the DSSI as a framework that would temporarily withhold debt repayments while low-income countries could restructure their debts with external creditors (including the Paris club and other lender countries). However, the lack of interest from the private-sector as well as some large bilateral creditor nations prevented the framework from functioning at its full capacity.

Janet L. Yellen, the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States of America, recently claimed that the Common Framework, which intended to bring all major bilateral creditors together to coordinate debt relief for low-income countries, had, in fact, failed to deliver on its promise due to China’s lack of cooperation. China is amongst the largest bilateral creditors to low-income countries and has played a significant role in financial lending aside from loans provided by the Paris Club members and multilateral institutions. The joint statement made post the Bali summit, included a divergent view from a member who had not been named regarding the debt relief services. The divergent view emphasised upon the importance of debt relief services by Multilateral Development Banks, a view that China has remained vocal about.

India’s role, in this case, could be one of facilitating agreements centred around helping volatile economies recover through deferred repayments. This would require India to play a vital role in convincing private lenders as well as China to cooperate constructively in facilitating the challenges of excessive debt burden. More so, India should also pitch for the inclusion of volatile middle-income countries on a case-by-case basis into the framework which will prevent some of the most volatile middle-income countries, especially the ones struggling financially in India’s immediate neighbourhood, from an upcoming economic crisis.     

As part of its initiative, India would also do well to advocate for the African Union’s inclusion in the G20 at par with the European Union’s status in the grouping. This would not only inculcate the growing concern of increased Chinese debts in the continent but would also provide greater leverage to the African nations in restructuring high-debt deals with China through a channelled process. Furthermore, this would strengthen India-Africa ties wherein Delhi has been attempting to counter China’s growing political clout.

India, during its presidency, should also lay focus on countries that share other multilateral forums with India and constitute as part of the G20 forum. For instance, India could look towards working closely with the IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) members, who would also be presiding over the G20 presidency after India in 2024 and 2025 respectively. The tri-lateral had recently agreed to reaffirm the G20’s role in economic cooperation and stressed its need on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. The opportunity of consecutively presiding over the G20 presidency for the IBSA members, is one that has immense potential and confers India to seek long-term developmental policies within the G20 forum. Matters such as the need for urgent reforms in multilateral institutions, constructing policies with a specific focus on the global south and an opportunity to revive the trilateral during the presidency are aspects that are of mutual importance to all three countries and can be further explored as well.

An essential feature of multilateral forums is that they provide a platform to concretize bilateral as well as multi-lateral initiatives. The Biden-Xi meeting was a case in point in which the G-20 meeting posed as an opportunity for both leaders to facilitate side-line talks at the forum, which otherwise would have remained stalled. Similarly, India’s presidency would benefit by initiating side-line meetings between like-minded countries and groups that could potentially enhance its regional interests. For instance, the competing differences between QUAD and AUKUS can be navigated through the G-20 forum at India’s behest in order to converge on matters of mutual interest, especially given the fact that all members of the two groupings are a part of the G20 forum.  

India’s global ambitions have for long sought an equitable multipolar global world. Its presidency will certainly inculcate its decades-long vision of reforms and a far more distributive world order, where the global south has an important voice in critical matters. However, India’s vision as a global leader and a rising power will attract strong recognition only if concrete resolutions to global challenges are achieved. India’s role during its presidency, therefore should not only focus on its ability to negotiate for a collective effort but should also include the essence of an inclusive and action-oriented approach to matters that require urgent attention.

Ratish Mehta is a post-graduate in Global Studies from Ambedkar University and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science Hons from Delhi University. His research interests include understanding the role of narratives in geopolitical relations and deconstructing narratives in international affairs as well as in domestic politics within India. He was previously associated with the Pranab Mukherjee Foundation as a Research Associate and is currently a Research Associate at the Organization for Research on China and Asia.

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