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20 December 2018, Gateway House

Reflections from T20 Tokyo

The Think20 Inception conference, held in Tokyo on December 4-5, 2018, kicked off the research process for 2019 for the leading think tanks from G20 countries that work on issues of global economic governance. The author participated in the conference as an observer.

Former Researcher, Geoeconomic Studies Programme and Manager, Research Office, Gateway House

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Japan assumed the presidency of the G20 for 2019 on 1 December 2018, taking over from Argentina. The Think20 (T20), a sub-forum of think tanks from G20 countries, began their activities for the year right away with the Inception Conference, held in Tokyo on December 4-5.

Japan is leading the T20 in its own unique, systematic style that is admired worldwide. It has launched ten taskforces to execute its research agenda for 2019. While Japan has inherited topics such as sustainable development, international financial architecture, climate change, and future of work, from past presidencies, new issues, such as studying the economic effects of infrastructure financing and an ageing population, have been introduced.

To lead the Think20 process, the Japanese government has established a secretariat, chaired by Dr. Naoyuki Yoshino, Dean, Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI). In this role, ADBI is ably aided by the Institute for International Monetary Affairs (IIMA), a renowned Japanese think tank established by MUFG Bank with expertise in international finance, and Japan Institute for International Affairs (JIIA), another highly-regarded think tank with expertise in foreign policy.

What makes Japan’s T20 process truly unique is that they have partnered with many other Japanese think tanks and universities to co-manage the taskforces. For instance, Mitsubishi Research Institute (MRI) is leading the climate change taskforce, the Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI) is leading the trade and SME taskforces, JICA Research Institute is leading the sustainable development taskforce, and senior academics from Kyoto University, University of Tokyo, Hitotsubashi University and Keio University are co-chairing the taskforces.

Participation in the conference was by invitation only. A thoughtfully curated list of around 200 participants from leading think tanks and multilateral institutions contributed to the intellectual discourse.

Kenji Yamada, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, set the tone in his opening keynote by highlighting that Japan will focus on trade, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and healthcare solutions required for an ageing population. He called on the G20 countries to work towards the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement. The other keynote speakers included the heads of the three institutions leading the Think20 process–Takehiko Nakao, President, Asian Development Bank (ADB), Kenichiro Sasae, President, JIIA and Hiroshi Watanabe, President, IIMA–all welcomed the experts and called on them to contribute with policy ideas for the G20.

The plenary session titled, ‘T20: the role of think tanks in the G20’, was particularly appropriate given that the effectiveness of the G20 is being questioned for its lack of concrete outcomes. The experts called for a directional shift in the approach and role of the T20. So far, it has given technical inputs to the G20 leaders but it must reinvent its role now as the ‘ideas bank’ of the G20 by formulating an agenda of overarching global governance issues for the G20 to discuss. This approach will generate consensus within member countries and will maintain topical continuity across presidencies. Else, the T20 may soon become irrelevant.

The day ended with a reception hosted by Taro Kono, the Foreign Minister of Japan. In his keynote, he welcomed the participating experts and reiterated Japan’s focus on SDGs, climate policy and the need to address inequalities caused by globalisation.

The taskforces met on the sidelines of the conference on the first day and at the taskforce working sessions on the second, to chalk out a work plan for the year. In the working session for the International Financial Architecture taskforce, the chair and co-chairs prioritised and selected the issues on the agenda for the year from a range that included topics on fintech, capital flow management, sustainable finance, IMF reforms and macro-prudential regulations. It was understood that there was as much need to discuss forward-looking issues like sustainable finance and fintech as more immediate and pending concerns such as IMF reforms and global safety nets. The session concluded with the unanimous decision to work towards writing briefs for policy-makers for all ideas discussed.

Japan has kicked off the T20 with vigour and there is excitement among the global think tanks which now have their work cut out for them for the next six months. Their efforts will culminate in the T20 Japan 2019 Summit in May 2019.

Gateway House has been an active member of the T20 since 2014 and is preparing to host an official T20 meeting in Mumbai, India on 28 January 2019 in collaboration with the designated Japanese think tanks, the fifth meeting of its kind. Gateway House has hosted a meeting of the T20 under the Turkish presidency of 2015, the Chinese Presidency of 2016, the German presidency of 2017 and the Argentine Presidency of 2018. The meeting will focus on examining how the global financial system can be aligned with the sustainable goals, rise of fintech, needs of the SMEs and geopolitical challenges to globalisation. These issues are at the core of the G20 and are important to both Japan and India. Experts from leading think tanks from the G20 countries, officials from India’s Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Finance, representatives of Mumbai-based financial institutions and business leaders will participate.

Ideas germinating from these discussions will be developed into policy briefs under the taskforce on ‘An International Financial Architecture for Stability and Development’ of which Gateway House is a co-chair and will be submitted to the Japanese and Indian governments. This meeting, as those held in past years, will be significant for India as it prepares to take up the presidency of the G20 in 2022 and is working towards formulating its own agenda. Gateway House is enthused to host this meeting and to contribute to Japan’s research agenda for 2019.

Purvaja Modak is Researcher, Geoeconomic Studies, and Assistant Manager, Research Office, Gateway House.

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