G 20, G20, Research, Writing

What will India’s G20 presidency focus on?

Co-authored with Jhanvi Tripathi and originally published in the Hindustan Times.

India’s presidency must leave the grouping with the agility and energy to respond to new realities, and it must create a future-ready multilateralism through a novel and robust institutional architecture

India takes over the presidency of the group in December. To live up to the potential of this opportunity, it must choose a policy direction to focus on continuity, incorporate green and digital transitions, and recognise the realities of a post-pandemic world

India’s presidency of the G20 grouping next year — arguably the sole remaining effective forum for global governance — presents an enormous opportunity to accelerate sustainable growth within India, in the emerging world, and beyond.

For India’s presidency to live up to this potential, it must recognise the constraints of the grouping and the crises — from the pandemic to the Ukraine war — that it must confront. But there should also be a clear understanding of the levers that a G20 president has to affect global policy action.

Next year, the troika of the preceding, current, and succeeding presidents will be three developing countries: Indonesia, India, and Brazil. This fortuitous alignment must inform India’s strategy as it designs its G20 agenda.

Three broad principles should underline India’s planning. First, it must recognise the value of the emerging-world troika and choose policy directions that emphasise continuity. Second, it must incorporate the concerns of its dual development transitions — green and digital — into the G20’s agenda. And third, it must recognise the realities of the post-pandemic world and prioritise action on those sectors that have, since 2020, been revealed to be under-capitalised.

India’s agenda must resonate beyond the one year it holds the presidency. This requires it to set its priorities alongside those of the two other members of the troika. The G20 under Indonesia has articulated three priority issues — global health architecture, digital transformation, and sustainable energy transition. Reinterpreting these will be key to building continuity, and, thus, sustained action. It is also important to keep in mind that having too many priorities is the same as having none at all. Indeed, India must prevent the G20 from suffering — as other multilateral forums such as the World Trade Organization do — from an over-expansion of its mandate.

Two major transformations will define our economies and societies going forward: Digital transition and green transition. Both are key to addressing the development challenge as well. These transitions are the meeting point of geopolitical and youth aspirations that will dictate our political, economic and social well-being.

On the digital front, India, to a large extent, has been a first mover. India’s youth aspirations are digital-first; the government has responded, and the digital economy is at the centre of its aim for a $5-trillion economy by the second half of the 2020s. The Observer Research Foundation’s youth survey on tech policy found that 83% of respondents want India to adopt a policy that prioritises its domestic technology industry. At the same time, 80% welcome greater cooperation with international partners on technology.

Clearly, a fine balance is needed where technological multilateralism does not come at the cost of developing countries’ needs. The Think Tank 20 (T20) engagement process has identified the internet as a basic right and technology access as vital to reducing inequalities. Cooperation at the G20 would be a good testing ground for pioneering tech regulation that balances the interests of the private sector with sovereignty and the security needs of States, and the growth demands of the economy.

India’s G20 must also recognise the unprecedented, carbon-constrained nature of future growth. Arguments for a green transition can no longer be limited to the moral high ground of saving the planet. A commitment on sustainable consumption must be placed front and centre. International financial regulation and the mandates of multilateral development banks must also ensure that adequate finance incentivises a business case for rapid change with adequate global flows subpoenaed for the developing world. Can the Indian presidency help to architect this new global arrangement?

A third focus must necessarily be the post-pandemic world order. Covid-19 has proved that health, nutrition, and livelihoods all remain fragile despite commitments made under Agenda 2030. The United Nations has warned that the Covid crisis could result in a lost decade for development. It has sharpened inequalities and widened development gaps. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund has also cautioned that the pandemic could lead to a “lost generation” of children in terms of education, nutrition, and overall well-being. These conversations have become more complex due to the crisis in Ukraine. The weaponisation of trade and the international banking system during this war has exacerbated uncertainties. The surge in prices of energy and essential staple foods has added a disturbing dimension to an already stressed economic recovery. By putting nutrition, food security, and health at the heart of its G20 agenda, India can ensure the success of the Decade of Action on Sustainable Development. The clincher will be to facilitate greater funding towards these efforts.

India’s presidency is an opportunity to reinvigorate, reinvent and re-centre the multilateral order. The G20 cannot be distracted or undermined by the bilateral relations of specific members, even as we acknowledge the gravity of the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Europe. India must leave the G20 with the agility and energy to respond to new realities, and it must create a future-ready multilateralism through a novel and robust institutional architecture.

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In the News

Samir featured in Hindustan Times article “Business and Barbs”, 2009

by Gaurav Choudhury
September 11, 2009, New Delhi
Link to original website

Here they are in the heart of Delhi, a maze of narrow corridors and shops where clones of the world’s sophisticated inventions can be bought after a good haggle: palm-sized iPods, sleek touch-mobiles, glitzy wristwatches. Don’t let the image mislead you. It’s a theatre of war. The 900-odd shops in the Old Lajpat Rai market are filled with cheap unbranded Chinese goods, as are thousands of markets across India, part of the same onslaught of consumer goods that China made across the world, and is now threatening millions of Indian craftsmen, businessmen and traders.

“The audio clarity in a Chinese mobile handset is even better than a Nokia phone,” said Narender Kumar, who runs a retail outlet of mobile handsets at the crowded market in Old Delhi. “About 90 per cent of the phones we keep are made in China,” he said, pulling out a Sycee Tong mobile phone that resembles a Nokia 6300 in shape and features. “While the Nokia set would cost Rs 7,000, the Chinese is priced at Rs 2,000.”

All that has made China — which fought a war with India in 1962 — its largest trading partner and the single largest source of imports, with a share of over 10 per cent of India’s total imports of $287.75 billion in 2008-09. From Barmer to Bangalore, thousands of Chinese engineers, computer hardware professionals and even unskilled workers are also working in India. And Indian companies like NIIT and Infosys are swiftly becoming the backbone of China’s computer software ambitions, with dozens of centres sprawling the nation.

It is an economic relationship that is soaring. One is the world’s factory, the other the global back-office. The two neighbours, housing nearly 37 per cent of world’s people, are also the hottest growth economies. If China sizzled with a 9 per cent growth in 2008, India grew at 6.7 per cent — at a time when the US, EU and Japan were reeling under recession. And yet, it is a relationship fraught with disputes, some niggling, some serious.

India is trying to crack down on the flood of counterfeits and cheap products using globally agreed-upon laws to prevent dumping, a manufacturer in one country exporting a product to another at a price below what it charges in its home market. China has accused India of adopting anti-trade measures, allegations New Delhi denies. In turn, it has blamed Beijing of imposing non-tariff barriers to prevent access to its market. There have also been instances of Chinese firms selling medicines under the “Made in India” label in Africa.

In June, the Nigerian Government Drug Regulatory Authority seized a large consignment of fake anti-malarial generic drugs labelled “Made in India” but allegedly produced in China, said an Indian commerce ministry official who declined to be named as he is not authorised to talk to the media.  The tablets could have affected some 6,42,000 customers.

China remains out of bounds for Indian basmati rice exporters. India also believes that the Chinese government is blocking entry of fruits and vegetables on grounds not necessarily economic. New Delhi had sought market access for 17 fruits and vegetables including mango, guava and pomegranates. Only three have been allowed. This year, India has so far launched 38 anti-dumping investigations over goods as varied as sodium nitrite, sodium carbonates, tyres and even the seemingly innocuous Vitamin C drug. As many as 22 of these pertain to products originating in China.

India has also put quality restrictions on mobile phones, dairy products and toys in a measure primarily aimed at blocking the flood of cheap imports from China. India’s Directorate-General of Foreign Trade said mobile handsets without the International Mobile Equipment Identity number, which helps authorities track the sale and use of the phones, can’t be imported. While no official estimates are available, industry sources estimate that close to one million such phones enter India every month from China. China’s Ministry of Commerce (MoC) has expressed “serious concerns” over India’s intensive trade probes. “China hoped that India could show prudence and restraint in using trade remedies… it could pose a threat to bilateral trade,” MoC said in its web site. India shrugs off the criticism.

“Anti-dumping duties are imposed after a process of thorough investigation,” Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar told HT. “Initiating the process of inquiry does not hinder imports.” He said even after final anti-dumping duties were imposed, they ended up affecting less than 1 per cent of the total trade. But in the big picture, as China-India relations go, all’s good, analysts say. In October last, the commerce departments of both the countries set up an expert group to promote cooperation. “Any nuance in India-China relations should be looked through the nuance of security and history,” said Samir Saran, vice president of the Delhi-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation.

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