India's G20 Presidency: What is on the Agenda?

February 07, 2023 Hanisha Shivnani

India's G20 Presidency: what is on the agenda?

On December 1st, the presidency of India commenced for G20 which was previously held by Indonesia. G20 as the group has immense potential to shape the global order as it contains 19 countries and the EU as a member. G20 countries contribute to 85% of global GDP and 75% of global trade and 2/3rd of the world's population.The agenda is set to convene over 200 meetings of ministers, government officials and civil society members across 32 different workstreams in 50 cities, leading up to a final summit in September 2023

The group is generally centred around economic and financial stability but has now widened the scope to important humanitarian concerns. India's theme of the presidency was unveiled which stated “One Earth, One Family, One Future”. The theme is similar to theoften-mentioned “VasudhaivaKutumbakam” in India's Foreign policy. To understand how India shall utilize its presidency one has to understand the top priorities for India at the moment and what India has been advocating on the diplomatic table.

The Concerns of Global South

The major themes that are relevant for the Indian presidency would include the advancement of the “Global South”, in which India would want to bring the focus of Global order to concerns of developing nations to the developed ones. During India's G20 Presidency, supporting countries most in need and reflecting the concerns and aspirations of developing countries will be at the forefront of the G20's efforts. The Ministry of Finance and the Reserve Bank of India will steer the G20 Finance Track agenda in an inclusive manner aimed at addressing the global economic needs of today as well as preparing for a better tomorrow. As per C. Raja Mohan who is Senior Fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute, “India's objective is not to rebuild a global trade union against the North. India is eager to become a bridge between the North and the South by focusing on practical outcomes rather than returning to old ideological battles”. As a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, India has a rich history of autonomy in foreign policy, and of using it to speak up for what was earlier known as the Third World. There is a strong revival in the policy which has been reflected in actions.

It is crucial that concerns of the global south don't extend up to financial means but also climate concerns which are cardinal to the areas of interest. In G20 Finance and Central Bank Deputies (FCBD) Role of Central Banks in Managing Climate Risk and in Green Financing was extensively discussed and holds a cardinal place in steering the discussions.

India's role in mediating with Russia

Looking at the current global order it is expected from India to negotiate peace between geopolitical tensions between Russia and the west, which is not mentioned on paper but since India has remained an “all-weather ally” to Russia. Testimonial to the India-Russia relationship is despite the G7 cap on Russian crude, India's one of the largest suppliers of crude has been Russia for more than 8 months. Meanwhile, the communication by India to Russia has been extensive and India has recommended a path to diplomacy and dialogue. India's presidency at the G20, which began December 1, comes at a fraught moment. At the Bali summit, the divisions in the world over the war in Ukraine were apparent. Indonesia's leadership saved the day and made a joint declaration possible, it is now Delhi's turn. The broad agenda of the G20 is to ensure the world's financial stability and that the fruits of economic development, including technological advances, reach people across the globe. How to do this with a war raging in Europe that has disrupted economies by limiting access to fuel, foodgrains and fertilizer, just as the pandemic's grip had loosened and countries had begun to chalk up recovery plans - is the question. India will need to navigate the divide in the grouping not just over the war, but its own problems with China, as well as the rivalry between China and the US, for any meaningful ideas to emerge at the end of the year. The presidency presents a unique opportunity for India's foreign policy to put its stamp on the global agenda.

Humanitarian Concerns

Another area the presidency is expected to ponder is supply chain disruptions, specifically associated with food as this year due to geopolitical unrest there were major shortages of food, fuel, and fertilizers,and discussions regarding the same are underway. During the first session on the global economy and Framework Working Group priorities, G20 members discussed global economic challenges, including global inflation, food and energy insecurity and macroeconomic implications of climate change that took place in Bengaluru.

One of the major areas that India might choose as part of multifold agenda, could be the financing of terrorism and curbing of extremist ideologies, with Pakistan out of the grey list India would want to bring back the focus on terror financing.

Cultural Diplomacy

There is a large body of literature on the concept of soft power and its role in international relations. Joseph Nye, a political scientist and former Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, is often credited with popularizing the concept of "soft power." In his 1990 book "Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power," Nye defined soft power as "the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments." G20 is decent opportunity for India in the means of soft power and India has been advancing its soft power diplomacy well by evoking the invitation to global world order by mentioning GautamaBuddha and Mahatma Gandhi to propagate message of peace globally. Additionally, the government intends not to subjugate a particular place for G20 but has diversified the hospitality to multiple states such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, Kerala Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. To understandit better has invited delegations until now in various places such as Udaipur, Bengaluru, Kanheri (Mumbai). Additionally, Urban-20 (U20) event being organized under the G20 presidency of India aims to provide a platform for cities from G20 countries to facilitate discussions on various important issues of urban development including climate change, social inclusion, sustainable mobility and affordable housing. Ahmedabad, a UNESCO World Heritage city, will host the U20 cycle.

Digital Economy & Sustainable Development

Additionally, India's development of a Unified Payment Interface has brought a “digital revolution” and has the potential to remove the digital divide that exists in developing countries which could be a potential area of discussion. India is keen to take its digitized public goods architecture to develop countries, and the mission is to find funding for it.

In 2-day FCBD meeting concluded 7 discussion sessions on issues of Global Economy, International Financial Architecture, Infrastructure, Sustainable Finance, International Taxation, Global Health, Financial Sector and Financial Inclusion, that happened Bengaluru. Additionally, there is a strong focus on cities as a medium of change and digitization of data which is reflected bythe infrastructure session, and discussions that took place on India's priorities for the Infrastructure Working Group 2023 including "Financing Cities of Tomorrow: Inclusive, Resilient and Sustainable".In the session on International Financial Architecture, delegates deliberated on various issues, including strengthening Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) and exchanged views on work to be undertaken in 2023 on key topics including global debt distress, capital flows and global financial safety net.Discussions on 'Strengthening MDBs to Address Shared Global Challenges of the 21st century” and “Role of Central Banks in Managing Climate Risk and in Green Financing” were also held on the sidelines.

G20 Sherpa Shri Amitabh Kant stated “Our priorities reflect not only the aspirations of G20 Members but also of the Global South. India is pursuing an inclusive, ambitious, decisive and action-oriented approach. Shri Kant outlined India's Development Working Group priorities as (i) Green Development including climate action and financing, just energy transitions and LiFE (LifeStyle for Environment); (ii) Accelerating implementation of SDGs; and (iii) Digital Public Goods/Data for Development. He added that DWG conversations would also include debt distress, reformed multilateralism and women-led development, and that India will highlight the importance of inclusive growth and collective action to achieve it”. These are reflective strong commitment to agenda things that are of top priority to India.

Skill Development

Additionally, India would want to focus more on skill development and training in digitization as one important area as it has been recognized as an essential area for cooperation among G20 leaders and is also an area where India struggles itself. Further, to focus on employment generation and skill development is through boosting MSMEs and entrepreneurs in the digital era and accruing benefits from digitalization and emerging technologies.

G20 and its Setup

Meetings are organized along two tracks, the “Finance Track” and the “Sherpa Track”, the Finance Track has 8 working streams Global Macroeconomic Policies, Infrastructure Financing, International Financial Architecture, Sustainable Finance, Financial Inclusion, Health Finance, International Taxation, and Financial Sector Reforms.

“Sherpa track” which is headed by Amitabh Kant, former CEO of NitiAayog. This track has 12 workstreams: anti-corruption, agriculture, culture, development, digital economy, employment, environment and climate, education, energy transition, health, trade and investment, and tourism, meeting in Future are going to be on similar lines.

What has happened previously?

The previous countries that held the presidency had a very dedicated focus on the relevant issues of the time. Such as Saudi Arabia in 2020 - Covidcrisis dominated the talks, during the Italian presidency in 2021 agenda was economic recovery post-pandemic and in 2022 Indonesia's theme was Recover Together, Recover stronger - with a special focus on global health, sustainable energy transition, environment, and digital transition. Agendas put forth by the above countries are also important to India and shall be a lingering theme during India, s presidency.

In future, the Presidency shall be held by Brazil and it is important to understand that G20 group does not have a permanent secretariat. The Presidency is supported by the Troika - previous, current and incoming Presidency. During India's Presidency, the troika will comprise Indonesia, India and Brazil, respectively. This is one of the rarest opportunities as this would be the very first time that the troika will consist of developing nations.


About the Author:

Hanisha Shivani is currently pursuing PhD in Political Science and International Relations at Pandit Deendayal Energy University.


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