Experts React: What to Expect from the G20 Leaders’ Summit

The G20 Summit on September 9–10 in New Delhi does not quite mark the end of India’s chairmanship of the G20. However, it is the most significant meeting of the year and offers a time for reflection. Among the many issues discussed during the year, a few stand out: global trade and investment, healthcare, digital economy, and climate cooperation.

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Richard Rossow

Ambitious Yet Limited Scope for Diversifying Supply Chains

Richard M. Rossow
Senior Adviser and Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies

Reflecting India’s own views on the benefits and challenges of international trade, G20 “Outcomes Documents” have portrayed nuanced views on integration. India’s own sensitive sectors like agriculture and small enterprises are highlighted as “at-risk groups” to ensure they do not suffer from unabashed trade integration, and to enable more economically developed countries to expand cooperation with less economically developed countries to help smaller firms improve standards.

The G20 has largely avoided making strong statements on core trade and investment issues like customs duties and foreign investment restrictions. However, the G20 is looking for ways to advance trade facilitation through the wider employment of digital tools and improving the resilience of global logistics.

One area where the G20 indicates wider trade aspirations is in building resilient supply chains. The twin tremors of Covid-19 and overreliance on China has laid bare the fragility of current supply chains. India, like most nations, hopes to win new investments from firms looking to diversify.

But success in expanding global supply chains will not lie in G20 meetings. Instead, success requires hard political choices to remove bureaucratic red tape, modernize infrastructure, and improve legal processes. And much of this work will have to be done by subnational governments, which rarely find voice in major forums like the G20. While engaging powerful state capitals by hosting G20 events there sends a strong political signal, it is of little substantive value.

The world is fortunate to have avoided major crises in the last year. This allowed India to have a relatively quiet chairmanship of the G20—moving at its own pace, and without the need to push for hard choices among members, as during a financial crisis. Trade and investment integration will be nominally benefited through G20 proceedings. But for India, real progress will be determined by domestic choices, not summits.

Katherine Hadda

Pandemic Preparedness to Be a Key Objective

Katherine B. Hadda
Visiting Fellow, Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies

Under India’s leadership, G20 health officials focused on three critical areas: pandemic preparedness, medical countermeasures, and digital health, with an emphasis on ensuring equitable access in all three areas for the world’s less developed economies.

The G20 Leaders’ Summit is likely to endorse—either indirectly or explicitly—many of the conclusions made by the G20 health ministers following their August 18–19 meeting in Gandhinagar. Pandemic preparedness includes recognizing the importance of universal primary health care, anti-microbial resistance, and taking the transdisciplinary, intersectoral “One Health” approach. This also includes a commitment to work with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international bodies to ensure better identification and response to future outbreaks. The leaders may also reinforce the ministers’ conclusion that governments, industry, foundations, and NGOs must work together to ensure timely and equitable access to quality medical countermeasures such as vaccines. They are likely to recognize the crucial role of digital health in both primary care and pandemic preparedness, including by voicing support for the WHO’s Global Initiative on Digital Health, which was jointly announced by the WHO and India during the G20 Health ministerial and was a banner achievement of the Indian G20 presidency. Lastly, G20 leaders are likely to announce support for the upcoming Brazil presidency’s health workstream, which may include pandemic preparedness, digital health, and addressing the health-related effects of climate change.

Other aspects of India’s G20 health agenda, such as the fight against tuberculosis, addressing noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and promoting the role of traditional medicine in modern healthcare systems, are less likely to be taken up by G20 leaders. But these issues may continue to be a part of the G20’s future health agenda, building on the work undertaken by India’s presidency throughout the year in various workshops and initiatives.

Jayant Krishna

Expectations on Digital Economy

Jayant Krishna
Senior Fellow, Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies

The G20 Digital Economy Ministers’ Meeting held on August 19 recognized the importance of creating an enabling, inclusive, open, fair, nondiscriminatory, and secure digital economy. Taking cognizance of the existing digital divide, leaders reaffirmed the urgency to accelerate open and inclusive digital transformation for all.

Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) now offers opportunities for digital transformation of service delivery through a shared tech infrastructure that can be cocreated and leveraged by public and private sectors. Hopefully, leaders at the G20 summit would focus on measures for secure and inclusive approaches and legal frameworks that protect personal data, privacy, human rights, and intellectual property rights.

The G20 leaders should discuss the Indian presidency’s proposal of the One Future Alliance, which aims to bring together governments, industry, academics, researchers, donors, and civil society, as well as the existing frameworks to synergize global efforts to create a robust DPI ecosystem. There should also be discussion of India’s proposals for a Global Digital Public Infrastructure Repository, a virtual platform to share global DPI best practices, as well as the G20 Toolkit on Cyber Education and Cyber Awareness of Children and Youth.

At the summit, the G20 leaders should also focus on the need to leverage DPI for enhanced connectivity to fast-track the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals within and even beyond the G20.

Discussions on efforts for digital literacy and skills would help address digital divides and the skill deficit for creating a robust digital economy. There have been important developments in this regard, including the G20 Toolkit for Designing and Introducing Digital Upskilling, Reskilling Programs, and the G20 Roadmap to Facilitate the Cross-Country Comparison of Digital Skills.


Climate Finance and Energy Transition to Dominate Discussions

Shashwat Kumar
Fellow, Energy, Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies

Through the environment, energy, and sustainable finance working groups, India has led the charge on climate cooperation during G20 meetings. In the upcoming leaders’ summit, in four key areas can be expected: climate finance, blue economy, energy transition, and biofuels.

The Environment and Climate Minister’s Meeting and Energy Transitions Ministers’ Meeting stressed the importance of climate finance to promote sustainable development and eradicate poverty. At both these meetings multilateral development banks and other financial institutions have been called on to further strengthen their efforts and develop new mechanisms/products for low-cost access to finance. Reforming these banks is one of the top priorities for the Biden administration heading into the summit—something that Global South countries, including India, have long advocated for.

However, access to finance is just one piece of the puzzle for larger sustainable development goals. India understands that strengthening alternate resource supply chains, as well as making the current resource usage more efficient, will be key to achieving climate goals. To that end, India has proposed building a Global Biofuels Alliance. The alliance is backed by the two largest biofuel producers in the world, namely the United States and Brazil, and aims to promote biofuels in lieu of traditional fossil fuels. According to Prime Minister Modi, the alliance needs to be modeled on the lines of the International Solar Alliance and focus on furthering North-South collaboration. It is also pertinent given that Brazil will be taking over the G20 presidency in 2024. The release of the alliance governance framework can be expected during the summit. Apart from this, the adoption of four voluntary principles, namely hydrogen, critical minerals supply chains, energy efficiency, and renewable energy access, can also be expected.

India has also emphasized on developing "blue economy” through the adoption of nine high-level principles called the Chennai Principles. The principles are focused on curbing marine pollution, and promoting biodiversity conservation, while building a sustainable ocean-based economy. This in line with India’s focus on preserving existing resources while developing alternate ones simultaneously.

India’s efforts at G20 are underlined by its larger attempt to reorient itself as a global leader. India has been able to do this tactfully by promoting South-to-South cooperation, as well as acting as a buffer during contentious global issues such as the Russia-Ukraine war. While there is success in certain areas such as solar energy cooperation, and transfer of public digital infrastructure through the “India Stack,” certain real challenges persist. These include inequitable technology, paucity of finance, warped health infrastructures, and as well as domestic bureaucratic setups limiting trade and business growth. The G20 can be a forum to provide guidance in these areas—however, real movement will need to be backed by domestic reforms as well as smaller international engagements.

Jayant Krishna
Senior Fellow (Non-Resident), Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies

Shashwat Kumar

Fellow, Energy, Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies