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13 June 2019, Gateway House

India, Japan@G20: quality infrastructure a priority

Japan hosts the 2019 G20 Osaka summit on June 28-29. India’s priorities at the G20 are similar to those of all developing countries, but it is significantly aligned with Japan in its emphasis on infrastructure, the silver economy and countering corruption, among others, says Suresh Reddy, Joint Secretary (Multilateral Economic Relations), ministry of external affairs, government of India, in this interview with Gateway House

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Gateway House (GH): What are the government of India’s priorities for the G20?

Suresh Reddy (SR): The priorities for India are almost the same as for all developing countries. First, it is the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We all share similar challenges, be it climate change or food security or developing our own infrastructure: these are important priorities for India – and India also takes up these issues on behalf of other emerging economies, other developing countries.

Some of the other key priorities for India are: disaster-resilient infrastructure. Disaster has become a major threat to the national economy because of the mass destruction it causes. While we can provide immediate response and relief to the affected, the fact that the infrastructure is destroyed affects people’s long-term ability to return to their livelihoods – and India has, therefore, been emphasising the creation of disaster-resilient infrastructure. We have proposed the establishment of a coalition for this and are working closely with Japan and other partners within the G20 towards this end.

This is a Japanese priority too, they are also talking about quality infrastructure – but not just in terms of the standard of the infrastructure, but more importantly, in terms of the standards of transparency necessary to ensure that corruption-related issues are addressed and that the costing of the project is kept within a reasonable amount so that there is no leakage of funds. Secondly, ‘quality infrastructure’ has also to be seen in terms of the benefit occurring to local society. Third, I would extend the term to describe its ability to withstand disasters. So, in a way, our two countries’ priorities on infrastructure are aligned.

Furthermore, ‘quality’ also refers to the quality of the financing of infrastructure, where too our views are aligned. The financing of infrastructure has always been a challenge, especially in the emerging economies. India has been taking the lead in having infrastructure described as an asset class in itself so that pension funds and other international lending institutions can extend larger amounts of funding to it.

Another important area for India is the issue of fugitive economic offenders. India has actually taken the lead in this. We have proposed a nine-point agenda, which covers: a) strengthening international cooperation; b) arriving at a common understanding in terms of definitions; c) introducing a platform for the sharing of good, best practices in this; d) and identifying legal mechanisms so that we can tackle the issue more meaningfully, fulfilling domestic legislations.

This is again an area where we are working very closely with Japan and our other friends within the G20 – because one of the key areas for the Japanese (presidency) too is corruption. And corruption, I believe, will continue to be a focus area for future presidencies, including Saudi Arabia, which will be president of the G20 next year, in 2020.

As an emerging economy with a large population, we are naturally concerned about food security, increasingly a concern for all countries, including the developed economies. Food security is not to do only with the availability of materials to the people, but also the importance of sustainable agricultural practices.

This is where the role of climate change comes in – and its impact on agriculture. Naturally, climate change is an important topic in the Japanese presidency. It has always been an important issue within the G20 agenda since the Paris Agreement of 2015, and will continue to be, especially post 2020, when India takes over the presidency of the G20 in 2022. This is when the implementation phase of the Paris accord on climate change will start coming into play, and with India holding the presidency, it will become critical and we will need to see how much progress has been made.

Another issue we have been talking about is the portability of social welfare schemes as we have many Indian citizens abroad who contribute quite a hefty amount to the welfare schemes existing in the countries where they work. We have been working with our partners in the G20 to achieve this portability so that when these citizens return to India their contribution comes with them for their benefit.

Terrorism is an important area for us. At the Hamburg G20 summit in 2017, we issued a special statement on countering terrorism, including issues, such as money laundering and financing of terrorism, and we hope to continue the engagement in this important area with the Japanese presidency too.

So far, a focus area for the Japanese presidency has been the silver economy or ageing. This is not a challenge yet in India, but an important area of focus for the Indian government as also for all countries. The policy prescriptions which are required to be developed to address the silver economy are still not in place: it’s the first time that ageing is on the G20 agenda, and members are working together to come out with a set of policy options which will enable countries to deal with it more effectively.

The silver economy poses a unique challenge. Take the pension scheme. We would never have envisaged the sustainability of the pension scheme itself becoming a challenge – because as life span increases so does the period over which one pays the pension. But proportionately, the problem with the silver economy is that the percentage of youth joining the workforce is declining. This means that revenue generation for the government, which enables it to meet pension requirements, is also decreased.

Similarly, with increasing life spans, a larger number of elderly people will need greater healthcare support – and this involves some financial implications. So, these are some of the new challenges arising out of the silver economy.

The objective behind having ageing as one of the priorities is to ensure that even the elderly have a quality of life and are respected – in the sense of being entitled to their own set of comforts just as any other citizen of the country.

Another key area for the Japanese presidency is addressing the challenge of marine plastic debris. Different countries have been talking about it in the past few years, but it’s the first time it has come to the forefront of the G20 agenda – and we are very glad it has. This has serious implications on food security because of the large-scale damage it does to the marine ecosystem. It is estimated that by 2050, the weight of the plastics in the ocean is going to be much more than the weight of the fish in it. This means millions of fishermen around the world will not be able to fish meaningfully. Hundreds of millions of people, who are dependent on the sea for their livelihood, will be directly affected. It is also time we started addressing seriously the large-scale impact of this on the environment, the ecosystems. We are therefore very glad it has been brought to the forefront of the Japanese agenda.

Discussions also continue on achieving the SDGs, strengthening cooperation on climate change and supporting the multilateral trading system: you are aware of the challenge being faced by the World Trade Organization (WTO) today and the discussions on the need for urgent reforms, which will take place during the Japanese presidency too.

As for multilateral systems, India has been urging reform of the multilateral architecture, multilateral governance systems, the international governance architecture itself, because we have been talking about reformed multilateralism. The point here is: do we strengthen the existing international governance architecture when it does not reflect today’s reality? We want it to be reformed to reflect today’s reality.

An example is the ongoing reform process in the IMF. We have been pushing for the conclusion of the discussions so that the review of the quota system takes place with the IMF before the end of 2019. Similarly, with the WTO too, it is important that the discussions on its reform are held in a way which supports the multilateral trading system, while also protecting the WTO’s unique character whereby emerging economies are given special rights within it in recognition of their unique requirements.

To recapitulate, the focus will continue to be on the SDGs, climate change, reform of the international financial architecture and the importance of quality infrastructure. Broadly, these are the themes important also for the Japanese presidency.

Suresh Reddy is Joint Secretary (Multilateral Economic Relations), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

This interview was exclusively conducted for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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