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India's 2023 G20 Presidency: What to Expect?

Purvaja Modak, Non Resident Senior Research Fellow, Global Economic Governance Initiative, Boston University Global Development Policy Center
November 29, 2022

On December 1, India will succeed Indonesia as president of the Group of 20 (G20), kicking off a yearlong presidency that culminates in the summit in New Delhi on September 9-10, 2023. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently returned from the Bali G20 Summit held on November 15-16, 2022, with a responsibility to lead a successful G20 presidency during a year filled with geopolitical disruptions amid a global polycrisis.

As president, India will set the global economic governance agenda for the year, a unique opportunity for the country to shape the international policy discourse and align its national priorities with its global aspirations. In its first ever global leadership role, India's long-awaited moment to lead and spearhead new policies at the negotiating table has arrived.

The G20 presidency is a massive undertaking, and in order to rise to the occasion, the Indian government has upgraded its intellectual, administrative, infrastructural and social capital; improved bureaucratic decision-making processes; and compiled a list of agenda items for the year. These are being carefully crafted in consultation with key stakeholders, including businesses, think tanks, academics, civil society, labor unions and the scientific community.

The recently announced theme for India's G20 year, "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" or "One Earth, One Family, One Future", draws from Sanskrit scriptures, highlighting an interconnectedness between different forms of life – human, animal, plant and microorganisms – and their place and value on Earth and in the wider universe. The theme includes a reference to LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment), showing how environmentally sustainable and responsible choices, at individual and national levels can lead to more informed and transformative actions globally, contributing to a cleaner, greener and bluer future.

In a recent briefing, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) confirmed there will be 250 meetings around the country, of which 190 will include the ministers that lead nodal departments within the G20 countries – like health, finance, agriculture, energy and trade – and approximately 100,000 people are expected to be in attendance throughout the year.

As G20 president, what risks does India face? What opportunities are available? And how can India effectively use the G20 presidency to establish a successful policy legacy beyond 2023? Here are the top three things to consider as India takes on the G20 mantle.

First, the G20 is often criticized as a talk shop without any continuity in its policy mandate, often leading to disjointed outcomes and no concrete policy action. For example, food security was one of the major priorities during the 2018 Argentine presidency but later fell by the wayside. India will have to maintain policy continuity from Indonesia if it wants to leave an imprint on the G20 discourse.

Indonesia's priorities for 2022 were global health architecture, digital and economic transformation and clean energy transitions, and India has indicated that it will continue prioritizing 'Digitization to transform lives.' Other priority issues for India include 1) Global health infrastructure, health financing and digitization of service delivery; 2) Digital public infrastructure and tech enabled development in education, livelihoods 3) Disaster resilience; 4) Fight against economic crime; 5) Reform of Multilateral Organizations; 6) Leveraging the blue economy; 7) Climate: Financing and the Green Hydrogen Mission, Accelerated pace of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) implementation; 8) Energy security and transitions and 9) Women's empowerment.

Second, India seeks to ensure policy continuity by championing certain issues at the G20 that it has already led under its chairmanship of the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) alliance in 2016 and 2021. At the G20, it is now prepared to steer discussions on global health challenges and pandemic preparedness, anti-corruption and counter terrorism cooperation, reform of regional and multilateral initiatives, energy transitions and the SDGs as well as economic and financial interlinkages at the global level. These issues have previously featured in smaller forums, such as the India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) alliance, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and others.

The two G20 presidencies following India are Brazil and South Africa, two emerging economies and fellow BRICS countries that are also first-time leaders of the G20. These three countries will have an opportunity to get buy-in from a larger group of both developed and developing countries on the issues that the emerging market economies wish to advance on the global stage. These will include a reform of the multilateral system with a greater voice for developing countries, sustained progress on SDGs and fair energy transition targets, to name a few.

This will not only enable policy continuity but also ensure that emerging market economy issues take center stage at the G20 for four years in a row. This is a first in the history of the G20, and it must be leveraged by the four countries (Indonesia, India, Brazil and South Africa) to push for a development-focused mandate.

Third, geopolitical tensions arising from the Russia's war in Ukraine or the India-China border issues could derail the G20 discourse. For example, unforeseen events like the bomb blasts in Brussels around the G20 summit in 2015 and the COVID-19 pandemic have forced the G20 to take on a more diplomatic role akin to that of the United Nations and obscured discussions regarding the G20's financial mandate.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin did not participate in the Bali Summit, and despite evident tensions between the heads of states during the summit and varying positions on Russia's war in Ukraine, the leaders managed to conclude the Summit with a communqué. This was facilitated by Indonesia's leadership and skill in negotiations – a skill that India must emulate during its year as it navigates these ongoing geopolitical disruptions and varied national interests.

A successful Indonesian presidency now paves way for India, followed by Brazil and then South Africa. The stage is set for emerging market economies to do their bit to bring order to a world gripped with geopolitical uncertainties and an ever-growing mandate for global forums like the G20. The stakes are high and now India must lead the way in showing critics that the G20 is, in fact, the economic steering committee for the world, as it was intended to be on its inception.

Originally published by Boston University Global Development Policy Center

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