New Delhi: India has always favoured the policy of encouraging multilateralism in the United Nations. India’s Presidency in 2023 and the role of the G20 will come into major play as the grouping holds a lot of potentials to bring even ground-breaking transformations. There are now growing concerns about underdeveloped nations. India’s strong commitments are proof of the new ambitions.
But it ought to be admitted that in the past, too, the G20 as a platform witnessed several major successes in multilateralism. In this context, one can promptly recall the saga of 2017 when the G20 Leaders disapproved of the US move to ‘withdraw’ from the Paris Agreement. Thus, despite the US withdrawal, the G20 Leaders stated that the Paris Agreement was irreversible.
The line was – ‘Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth’, and this had become the stand of G20 at the Hamburg G20 Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth. Prior to that, one can cite the illustration of 2008 when, the backdrop of the global Economic Crisis, the G20 focused on the enhanced surveillance of the world economy through the IMF and stronger financial sector regulation through the Financial Stability Board.
But it goes without stating that in the contemporary changes, the challenges are many, and some of them are immensely complex. In more ways than one, the ‘limitations’ of the multilateral institutions have come to the fore.
In fact, even the United Nations Security Council has largely failed to live up to the primary responsibility of maintaining international peace and security. The ineffectiveness of the system could be seen during the debacle in Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban, the situation in Israel and Palestine and even the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Even the role of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is seen as increasingly eroding despite the growing trends of trade wars.
To list a few, Multilateralism in the G20 works through a number of organisations like the UN, IMF, ILO, WTO, World Bank Group and Financial Stability Board (FSB). Of course, good works persist in some areas, notwithstanding issues and limitations. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has continued its ongoing work on women at work in G20 countries with a focus on increasing women’s participation in labour markets and improving the quality of women’s earnings. The labour market security vis-a-vis women also gets its due attention.
At the WTO’s Ministerial Conference (MC-12), in Geneva, in June 2022, a fresh lease of life was given to the WTO. A consensus was reached about securing agreements on relaxing patent regulations to secure vaccine equity, ensuring food security and subsidies to fishering.
For its part, India has been maintaining a consistent stance on vital sectors. On Oct 13, 2021, when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees appealed for funds for war-ravaged Afghanistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on the international community to provide Afghanistan with “immediate and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance”. India’s willingness to work with international aid agencies working for displaced Afghans was reiterated.
At the G20 Finance Ministers meeting in Washington, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman stressed equitable access to Covid19 vaccines. India also supported the Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Sharing that requires the imposition of a 15 per cent tax on multinational enterprises.
Now to talk about other international partners. Indonesia held the Presidency of G20 in 2022. This stint was based on the theme, ‘Recover Together- Recover Stronger’. The Indonesian Presidency also has said that the world requires more collective action and inclusive collaboration among the major developed countries and emerging economies. What will be crucial again to note is that the baton of the G20 Presidency has passed from Indonesia to India, and it will pass on to South Africa in 2024 and Brazil in 2025.
Thus, India and some of its natural allies now have a greater chance to push for necessary reform in the running of the UN, especially the multilateral institutions. In the economic zone, the key roles of these organisations are decided by ‘preferential voting rights’ while these are based on the ‘voting rights of the nations in the Security Council’ when it comes to geopolitical and security.
It is important to note that India, Brazil and South Africa also have cordial relations among themselves and with India and also share an important space in the BRICS with Russia and China. A BRICS statement had rightly pointed out that the “….success and relevance (of the UN) would be determined by its ability to adapt to the realities of today’s world, which is starkly different from what it was at the time of its creation more than 75 years ago”.
Others also share this growing perspective. “We must modernise our multilateral institutions, making them fit for purpose and better equipped to deal with the global and cross-generational challenges we face,” notes a joint article penned by Jacinda Ardern, Cyril Ramaphosa and Pedro Sánchez, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, President of South Africa, and Prime Minister of Spain, respectively.
Thus the general understanding is that real ‘solutions’ are not coming through the existing mechanisms and the existing multilateral institutions.
India has made its intent clear in guiding its Presidency of G20 in 2023. New Delhi wants its Presidency to be reform-cum-action-oriented.
External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar has said the UN is locked ‘frozen’ in a frame-up of 1945. Pretty strong words. This reflects ‘New India’.
As it is, the Modi government has been pushing its case for some of the vital global issues. At the G20 Rome Summit, Prime Minister Modi put forward his vision of ‘One Earth-One Health’. At the Riyadh Summit in 2020, Modi called for the creation of a vast talent pool, ensuring that technology reaches all segments of society, transparency in the system of governance and dealing with Mother Earth with a spirit of trusteeship.
In 2023 and beyond, according to V Srinivas, an expert on G20 matters, the platform should “do everything in its power to keep inflation in range and protect the living standards for vulnerable people”.This underpinning makes a lot of sense as nearly 60 per cent of the low-income countries are facing an unbearable debt burden. Of course, “it is likely that the G20 will come together to establish new rules and timeliness for the common framework”, says Srinivas.
For its part, the WHO has also said, among other things, that the Financial Intermediary Fund for pandemic prevention and response hosted by the World Bank will have to be truly inclusive and universally accessible.