The Economic Times, November 01, 2023
By Pradeep S Mehta and Advaiyot Sharma
An emphasis on reposing faith in multilateralism has been a hallmark of India’s G20 Presidency, which is now entering its final lap. The concluding paragraphs of the G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration reiterated a commitment to the G20’s continued operation “in the spirit of multilateralism, on the basis of consensus, with all members participating on an equal footing in all its events…”. It was this very “spirit of multilateralism” which carried the day at the New Delhi G20 Summit. This spirit must pervade the functioning of the G20 and all other multilateral groupings in the coming years.
In Delhi, the G20 chose to convey a message of standing together for collective interests, rather than letting hardline positions on specific issues hold a veto. It must be recognised that such a favourable outcome would not have been possible without a commitment to the core principles of multilateralism.
The United Nations recognises consultation, inclusion and solidarity as the three foundational pillars of multilateral cooperation. In addition, collective decision-making lies at the heart of multilateralism. India deserves full praise for leading from the front in adhering to these principles, which formed the basis for bringing the fractured group together and achieving the breakthrough G20 success.
This spirit of multilateralism was showcased first and foremost by the admission of the African Union (AU) into the G20 fold, among other initiatives.
The inclusion of the AU in the G20 is a firm expression of solidarity with and inclusion of African priorities in the international economic development agenda. This was long overdue.
The AU’s inclusion is aligned with the principles of multilateral cooperation, representing both an enhancement of the quantitative (a greater number of voices from the Global South in international economic decision-making processes) as well as qualitative (a better representation of the diversity of interests in the global economy) dimensions of multilateralism.
Further, the consensus-based Declaration by G20 Leaders was itself driven by the spirit of multilateralism.
The Summit-level gathering was the first meeting under India’s G20 Presidency to agree to a consensus document. All previous G20 Ministerial Meetings this year had been able to produce only a Chair’s Summary, with the outcome document containing footnotes capturing the differing issue-based positions of G20 members.
That it took till the Leaders’ meeting, when the stakes were highest, for the grouping to finally agree to set aside their differences and unanimously back a Declaration shows how challenging the negotiations over the course of the year were.
It is no mean feat to achieve concurrence of views in acceptable diplomatic language on such a wide range of issues amongst a grouping as diverse as the G20, particularly in the prevailing geopolitical scenario.
This is also a testament to the diplomatic skills of negotiators from India and the other G20 countries. Apart from the necessary political backing, the instincts of seasoned negotiators, supported by a team which treated complexity as a challenge, were instrumental in cultivating consensus.
Amitabh Kant, India’s G20 Sherpa, played no small part in this. I have personally known and worked with him over the course of many years, particularly during his previous stints as CEO, NITI Aayog and Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion. His range, depth and positive attitude are unsurpassed – he is equally at ease discussing economic policy and regulatory reforms, as he is discussing geopolitics and international relations, despite not being a career diplomat. On reforms he is always gung ho, and I had thus named him as Amitabh Adrenaline Kant.
In his remarks at CUTS International’s 40th anniversary event in New Delhi in late May this year, Kant spoke about the myriad challenges facing multilateralism. He gave an example of how multilateral financial institutions were designed for a different era, and now needed urgent reform to be made fit for the 21st century. This has been reflected in the G20 Leaders’ Declaration, with a clarion call for reforming international financial institutions.
Overall, the G20 under India’s Presidency achieved significantly more than just hosting a successful annual Summit. In an era of resurgent unilateralism, particularly in economic policy, it brought the spirit of multilateralism back to the forefront. It demonstrated the potential of multilateral cooperation to collectively identify and address the most significant challenges of our time.
Unfortunately, barely a month after the successful G20 Summit, the global economy now faces a fresh threat of economic and geopolitical instability arising from the situation in the Middle East. This has the potential to divert already scarce resources and become a new roadblock to multilateral cooperation in areas such as international trade cooperation, climate change mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity repair, and debt restructuring for developing countries, among others.
Brazil will take over the reins of the G20 Presidency from December this year. While each G20 Presidency faces unique challenges and must rise to the occasion, there must also be consistent efforts by all Presidencies to preserve and foster the spirit of multilateralism. India has shown the way.
The authors work for CUTS International, a global public policy research & advocacy group.
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