A new global vision for G20

A shift is required from commitments on aid and trade to collaboration around science and technology

August 11, 2022 12:15 am | Updated 11:19 am IST

G20 leaders on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Rome in 2021.

G20 leaders on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Rome in 2021. | Photo Credit: AFP

While India has taken a clear view of the role of the G20, there is concern that the agenda, themes and focus areas which India will set for 2023 lack vision.

The G20 plays an important role in shaping and strengthening global architecture and governance on all major international economic issues. It recognises that global prosperity is interdependent and economic opportunities and challenges are interlinked. The challenge is to craft new approaches to overcome the acute global discord.

However, according to the Ministry of External Affairs, in 190 meetings, India will strengthen international support for priorities of vital importance to developing countries in diverse social and economic sectors, ranging from energy, agriculture, trade, digital economy, health and environment to employment, tourism, anti-corruption and women empowerment, including in focus areas that impact the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Without specificity, India has lost a chance to nudge the G20 and regional organisations towards its focus areas.

Collaboration not commitments

The fractured world makes trade-offs, the essence of current multilateralism, difficult and suggests a new model of international cooperation.

First, multilateral commitments on aid and trade are faltering. Governance in a world that is steadily becoming more equal needs institutional innovation. This is because the role of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization in securing cooperation between donor and recipient country groups is losing centrality. There are now three socio-economic systems — the G7, China-Russia, and India and the others — and they will jointly set the global agenda.

Second, Ukraine’s long shadow, rival finance, the expanding influence of the trade and value chains dominated by the U.S. and China, and the reluctance of developing countries to take sides in the strategic competition as they have a real choice requires fresh thinking on the nature and form of collaboration from the G20.

Third, the primary role of the G20, which accounts for 95% of the world’s patents, 85% of global GDP, 75% of international trade and 65% of the world population, needs to be reoriented to prevent a clash of ideas to the detriment of the global good. The solution lies in a new conceptual model seeking agreement on an agenda limited to principles rather than long negotiated anodyne text. The Rio Declaration of 1992 is an appropriate model. For example, incorporating the three major priorities of each of the groups as part of a global agenda will inform smaller groupings of countries which have issue-based linkages and overlaps between them instead of struggling for meaningful agreement on single concerns of groups which are not even talking to each other.

Common concerns

India should seek collaboration on limited focus areas around science and technology, building on resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and other multilateral bodies.

A new conceptual frame is needed. First, the presumed equality that we are all in the same boat, recognised in the case of climate change, needs to be expanded to other areas with a global impact redefining ‘common concerns’. Second, emerging economies are no longer to be considered the source of problems needing external solutions but source of solutions to shared problems. Third, the BRICS provides an appropriate model for governance institutions suitable for the 21st century where a narrow group of states dominated by one power will not shape the agenda.

The starting point should be building on the global consensus in the Vienna Declaration on Human Rights 1993 reaffirming the indivisibility of all human rights. There is a growing recognition of economic and social rights — for example, in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Ensuring adequate food, housing, education, health, water and sanitation and work for all should guide international cooperation. Principles of common but differentiated responsibilities for improving the quality of life of all households can guide deliberations in other fora on problems that seem intractable in multilateralism based on trade and aid.

Second, the global agenda has been tilted towards investment, whereas science and technology are the driving force for economic diversification, sustainably urbanising the world, and ushering the hydrogen economy and new crop varieties as the answer to both human well-being and global climate change. Innovation supports dematerialising production and consumption and moving towards renewable sources of energy. The shift in lifestyles in the post-war period created urban jobs in services and retail that made up for the losses to high productivity manufacturing, and climate change. A forum to exchange experiences on societal benefits and growth as complementary goals would lead to fresh thinking on employment and environment.

Third, harnessing the potential of the digital-information-technology revolution requires redefining digital access as a “universal service” that goes beyond physical connectivity to sharing specific opportunities available. For global society to reap the fruits of the new set of network technologies, open access software should be offered for more cost-effective service delivery options, good governance and sustainable development.

Fourth, space is the next frontier for finding solutions to problems of natural resource management ranging from climate change-related natural disasters, supporting agricultural innovation to urban and infrastructure planning. Analysing Earth observation data will require regional and international collaboration through existing centres which have massive computing capacities, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Open access to geospatial data, data products and services and lower costs of geospatial information technology facilities do not require huge financial resources.

Fifth, public health has to learn from the COVID-19 fiasco with infectious diseases representing a market failure. A major global challenge is the rapidly growing antimicrobial resistance which needs new antibiotics and collaboration between existing biotechnology facilities.

Strategic thinking

Sixth, overriding priority to development suggests avoiding strategic competition. Countries in the region will support building on the 1971 UNGA Declaration designating for all time the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace and non-extension into the region of rivalries and conflicts that are foreign to it.

Lastly, a Global Financial Transaction Tax, considered by the G20 in 2011, needs to be revived to be paid to a Green Technology Fund for Least Developed Countries.

Mukul Sanwal is a former UN diplomat

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