The G20 meeting has evoked a varied response. What is unequivocal is that it has been a resounding success in terms of getting different minded countries to agree to an agenda for the future. It also raises India’s stature as a thought leader which can drive the agenda for the world economy in the coming years.
Cynics may lament the expenditure involved for a developing country like ours. But this does not really count in the larger scheme of things. There could legitimately have been some disappointment from the point of view of there being no effort to resolve the Ukrainian war. But this is not a forum for resolution of issues that the UN has also not managed to address. As an extension China’s aggression at our borders was not put up for discussion. But what then has exactly been achieved here?
Like the G20 meet, group meetings are necessary to keep conversations alive in a multi-polar world where every country looks for self-enhancement. It would not be incorrect to say that in the past, most of these meetings which go with a prefix of ‘G’ have been only discussion forums with no firm agreements. India can take credit for making a difference here.
There are several reasons to be proud of this conclave. First, it has been done on such a large scale, involving myriad meetings over several months in different places, that it has gotten representatives from member countries to discuss various issues. Second, by making it a big event, unlike what was done in the past, it sets a precedent for the next member country when the event is hosted in 2024. Third, while heads of two important states, China and Russia, were absent, the active participation of heads of governments of US, UK, Germany, France etc gives the satisfaction of like-minded countries coming to the table. Fourth, the fact that this was done with élan at a time when the geo-political situation is far from united does credit to India’s organisation power. Last, the resolution to also enhance the size of the group to include Africa comes as a breath of fresh air as it makes the group truly global.
The issues on which there was consensus can be said to be no-brainers as it is something everyone is concerned with. But this is a major achievement. Technology and digitisation are something where India has been a forerunner and hence there are templates to be followed by other nations. Similarly global warming and climate change is an issue where there needs to be regular conversations though admittedly it would take a long time to get everyone on the same page. Financial inclusion is more relevant for developing or emerging countries, and getting the rich nations into the discussion is always useful.
Talks on developing the India-ME-Europe corridor is probably the biggest achievement or outcome from these deliberations. By getting more countries on the G20 platform it becomes easier to implement such designs as it is a win-win situation for the world at large. Given the pre-eminent economic position that we occupy, it has become expedient to have such a passage for augmenting trade and commerce which will help to create the desired infrastructure which is involved.
An interesting thought that comes to mind when looking at the concept of G20, considering that the final meetings come just after the meeting of BRICS, is whether or not there are too many such gatherings — each pulling in a different direction? While the developed nations have their G7 elite club, there are other such alliances like the APAC, QUAD, ASEAN, G20, G77, BRICS and so on. Countries which are part of different groups often have different agendas to deal with.
For example, when BRICS meets, there is a joint agenda against countering the economic hegemony of developed economies as there are talks of creating a strong bloc to counter Western ideology. Here there is a decoupling from the rich nations. QUAD is more a security-based group where the members India, USA, Japan and Australia have an alliance. Here the goal is to ensure that there are checks on China. But the same China is a part of BRICS and G20. And when it comes to G20, the entire set of countries are talking of cooperation with one another.
To top it all BRICS has been widened to include also Iran and Saudi Arabia along with Egypt, UAE, Argentina and Ethiopia while G20 will embrace the African Union of 55 countries. This adds to the complexity, given the latent hostility between several member countries outside the Russia and China axis.
While this may sound fair enough, often issues which are discussed within one group and are contentious get left out from the other one. This can lead to contradictions. Hence countries which are on the other side in certain groups meet as friends when it comes to a larger group.
The failure of the WTO did lead to more regional trading alliances coming up where like-minded countries got together to trade further. Smaller groups of countries work better, as the agenda is specific and affects all the same way. But with these groups expanding in size under the umbrella of becoming more inclusive, which is the case with BRICS or G20, there will be more differences and hence it becomes more challenging to bring all to a common ground.
One thing for sure is that individual countries like China or Russia, which have rather wayward political ambitions when it comes to Taiwan or Ukraine, would just not be willing to talk with any other nations on grounds of these being internal or bilateral issues. Hence the possibility of political reconciliation from such jamborees looks unlikely. It would be economic issues which could work better, though would admittedly take a lot of time as the number of countries involved increases.
The author is Chief Economist, Bank of Baroda and author of ‘Corporate Quirks: The Darker Side of the Sun’. Views are personal