The G20 holds an elevated status: it is often referred to as the world’s economic steering committee. It was central to that role in 2008, after the global financial crisis – and it was central again in 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the 12 years between 2008 and 2020, many wondered if the G20 had lost its way. Terms like mid-life crisis, mission creep and problematic policy cooperation were used for the G20. This criticism may be justified, but it is also harsh. Multilateral bodies like the United Nations and its associate systems, formed in 1947, have long needed reform, but not been enabled by member nations, nor wrought it from within. The WTO still does not have a full appellate bench of three required to resolve trade disputes. War and terrorism created a wave of migration especially from West Asia and North Africa, engulfing Europe in a crisis of migration, assimilation and employment. Climate change and sustainable development are embattled. A rising China now has its own bureaucrats at the head of a third of the UN’s 15 principal agencies and is rapidly dominating others in what appears to be a strategic takeover of the global multilateral system.
Consequently, in addition to its already loaded financial governance agenda, significant multilateral issues from migration to climate change, environment, trade, culture, security and defence, the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs), digitisation – all the challenges of the global community have been brought to the doorstep of the G20 in the hope that this group of powerful nations may find comity on the issues.
In 2020, the pandemic and a crisis of legitimacy at the World Health Organization added health to the G20’s sky-high agenda.
The G20 community has striven to take all this in its stride. Under Saudi Arabia’s leadership, the G20 has striven valiantly to contain damages wrought by the pandemic, spur economic recovery and assist developing countries with a creative Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI). Through virtual meetings throughout the year, the Saudi government generated a wealth of ideas, suggestions and recommendations through an elaborate process of consultations with the engagement groups of the G20, especially the T20 and the B20.
The Saudi Presidency has also worked hard to ensure a balance between handling the damaging impact of COVID on the one hand and the G20’s regular agenda on the other hand. G20 ministers and officials have focused on seven clusters of themes relating to economic governance. These are finance, banking, trade and investment and infrastructure issues; the challenges of addressing inequality; improving the ecosystem for information technology and digitisation; climate change; terrorism financing; health-related issues and the war on COVID and the concerns of the Global South, particularly the G20’s emerging partnership with Africa.
Italy, the G20 President in 2021, has been off to an energetic start – despite being one of the earliest and worst affected countries by the pandemic. Its B20 grouping is focused on reviving the SME sector, which contributes nearly 80% to its employment and 70% to its economy – themes central to the G20’s core agenda. Less SDGs and more SMEs is a move towards the right track.
While the workings and influence of the G20 are less visible to the public, within governments of member-states, the G20’s immense utility and relevance is clear and increasing. This information gap between the public and the state must be creatively and effectively addressed in order to raise the credibility of G20 as a whole.
India will have to consider this responsibility as readies for its G20 Presidency year in 2023. The country’s leadership can start now to put in motion all its relevant limbs to ensure success – government, business, academia, innovators, people and media. For commensurate with its global vision and comprehensive national power, India is committed to making an appreciable contribution to the global good. With UN reform showing little signs of progress and with multilateral institutions created in the 20th century continuing to underperform, India’s interest and participation in the G20, an essentially twenty-first-century institution, must demonstrate that multilateralism can be both equitable and continue to deliver.
Kripalani, Manjeet, India in the G20: Rule-taker to Rule-maker. Routledge India, 2022.
Manjeet Kripalani is Executive Director, Gateway House.
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