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G20 is losing its focus, purpose

Sep 09, 2016, DHNS: 23:13 IST
The proceedings of the G20 summit which concluded in Hangzhou in China and the statements that came at the end showed how far the grouping has come away from its original purpose and agenda. The G20 came into being after the 2008 global financial crisis and was conceived as a forum which could avert and address future crises through consultation, cooperation and coordinated action among countries. It represented about 85% of the world’s GDP and two-thirds of its population. The G20 did good work in the early years and had a role in guiding the world out of an economic meltdown and slowdown. It also pushed the fight against black money and the need for the best financial practices to the top of the world’s agenda. But once the crisis passed, the grouping seems to have lost its savviness and even utility, and countries have gone back to their own narrow interests and limited agendas.

The Hangzhou communique had more generalities like the need for sustainable and inclusive development, creation of jobs and reduction of inequalities than any specific idea or action plan. The fact that bilateral meetings among leaders attracted more attention than the proceedings of the summit showed the change in the nature of the group and the shift in the members’ concerns. Many of the issues which were raised at the summit, mentioned in the communique or discussed between leaders were predominantly bilateral or regional. India’s concerns about China’s economic corridor in Pakistan, the worries of some countries over the Chinese position on South China Sea and the importance the US gives to the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership are all indicative of emerging priorities. Ironically, China is now more worried about the rise in protectionist tendencies than the US, which is the acknowledged champion of free trade and free markets.

An important event was the ratification of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change by the US and China, the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. India and many other countries, which have some concerns about the agreement, are yet to ratify it. The grouping can be a forum for guidance and action on this. There was agreement at the summit that terrorism and tax evasion needed to be fought collectively. Both issues are of interest to India, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi made special mention of them. However, at the end, the indications from Hangzhou are that there is a creeping retreat from multilateralism and an increasing tendency among nations to look at their own needs and problems in isolation from those of the international community. That has weakened the G20 bonding and may not help anyone when the next crisis happens.


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