Analysis | India stakes its G20 legacy on Global South imprint

As negotiators finalize draft sans consensus over Ukraine, PM pitch for African Union, development initiative take centerstage

Updated - July 15, 2023 11:48 am IST

Published - July 14, 2023 05:01 pm IST - HAMPI

As G20 negotiators led by Indian Sherpa Amitabh Kant continued discussions on the draft “Leader’s Declaration” for the Summit in September, the government is staking much of its resources on ensuring the membership of the African Union (AU) in the G20. 

As G20 negotiators led by Indian Sherpa Amitabh Kant continued discussions on the draft “Leader’s Declaration” for the Summit in September, the government is staking much of its resources on ensuring the membership of the African Union (AU) in the G20.  | Photo Credit: PTI

As G20 negotiators led by Indian Sherpa Amitabh Kant continued discussions on the draft “Leader’s Declaration” for the Summit in September, the government is staking much of its resources on ensuring the membership of the African Union (AU) in the G20. India has inserted the AU membership proposal in its revised draft that is being reviewed by all member countries during the 3-day (July 13-15) meet in rain-soaked Hampi, while finalizing the language on other India-imprint additions on gender-led development, digital public infrastructure and green hydrogen transitions. India’s push to expanding the imprint of the Global South in the G20 body is also a way of diverting attention and energies from the global polarization over the war in Ukraine, that is holding up a joint statement at all India-led G20 events.

According to officials and diplomats present at the meetings thus far, the row over the two paragraphs from the Bali G20 statement on Ukraine has erupted at ministerial meetings on education, research, agriculture, tourism and even the recently concluded “Urban 20” of mayors and city administrators. With just two months remaining for the Summit, few are holding out much hope for a joint communique coming together, which would be unprecedented in the G20’s summit history since 2008, that have all resulted in a Leader’s Declaration or Communique.. While Russia and China have disassociated themselves from the language agreed to in Bali, that states the national positions of various countries, they now refuse to support any reference to the war in Ukraine in a G20 document meant for economic and development issues. Meanwhile the G-7 countries are adamant that the Russian war in Ukraine must be included as it is affecting the global economy including energy prices, food security etc. G-7 countries are also not keen for economic sanctions imposed by the west to be included in the document. Official

In contrast, say a number of officials, there is “much support” for the Indian proposal on the AU going ahead. To begin with, the G20 hosted by India represents the first time that developing countries form the troika (hosts for 2022-2023-2024) of Indonesia-India-Brazil, and India has championed the voice of the global south in its deliberations. Secondly, the G20 at present is seen as “over-representing” Europe, as a quarter of the grouping is made up by UK, France, Germany, Italy and the European Union (Spain is a permanent special invitee). While inducting the AU will not change the composition of the invitee list, as the AU joins the G20 as a special invitee every year, it will bring in a large chunk of the global population currently being kept “out of the tent”.

“With the African Union joining the G20, 90% of the global population will be represented by the grouping, which will be unique,” said Mr. Kant in an interaction with the media in Hampi, adding that the induction would be a “huge achievement” for India’s G20 presidency.

However, the AU move, first authored by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a letter to other G20 leaders last month is not without its challenges, given the number of other contenders that want G20 membership. These include regional groupings like the Association of South East Asian Countries (ASEAN) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), as well as countries like Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, which are not at present permanent members of the G20, but are in the world’s top 20 economies. Inducting the African Union will also mean an exponential rise in the number of countries that can hold up the consensus over a G20 document, which is already paralyzed by the Ukraine war.

India’s legacy as G20 President, already in the balance over whether it can forge a joint statement, or corral all G20 leaders from Putin and XI and to Biden, Macron and Trudeau into an event under one roof in September at the G20 venue in Delhi’s Pragati Maidan, may well find its bright spot in the inclusion of African nations, that are among the fastest growing markets in the emerging world. 

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