The Fall 2023 Geoeconomic Agenda: What to Expect

This year has already been geopolitically dynamic. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen coined the term “de-risking,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan gave a historic speech on a new Washington Consensus, G7 allies converged on an economic security agenda, and the Biden administration has unveiled a new outbound investment proposal. As the fall summit season kicks off, CSIS highlights some of the key events to follow and how they stand to impact the nexus of geopolitics, trade, and technology.

G20 Leaders' Summit: September 9–10, New Delhi

The 18th Leaders’ Summit of the Group of 20 (G20) will kick off a season replete with international gatherings. However, the July finance ministers’ meeting failed to produce a typical joint communiqué, potentially signaling insurmountable intra-group political difficulties. Russia and China blocked any negative language relating to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the French finance minister vowed not to sign the leaders’ statement if it lacked a strong condemnation of Russia’s actions. Russian and Chinese obstruction also restrained discussion about other pressing issues, including managing global debt. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, threatened to block the Leaders’ communiqué if it did not support the Russian position.

Potentially a more profound problem for the group has emerged amid news that President Xi Jinping will not attend the summit (Putin had already indicated he would not attend). The Chinese leader’s absence serves as a major blow to the G20’s credibility and signals that in weakening the G20, President Xi is attempting to empower the newly expanded BRICS bloc. Announced at the recent BRICS summit in South Africa, new members include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Argentina, Ethiopia, and Egypt, doubling the size of the group and making it a rival for the G20 and an attempt at answering a recently emboldened G7. China has in recent years used the G20 as a vehicle to voice their geopolitical vision of the world and to challenge the G7, but the rise and expansion of BRICS could create a structure in which the politics are far more favorable to China and in which China can yield significantly more power. The next BRICS leaders’ summit will occur in Kazan, Russia, in 2024.

IPEF Negotiating Round: September 10–16, Bangkok

The fifth Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) round will be the latest in several months of formal negotiations and working group meetings after the first formal round occurred in December 2022. The aim of this rapid pace is to finalize the four pillars of the IPEF agreement by the November Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting. Thus far, parties have concluded negotiations on the second pillar on supply chains, which they reached in May. While the conclusion of a substantive supply chain agreement marks major progress for the initiative, results from the recent July meeting in Busan, Korea, were more modest. However, it is possible that parties could make progress on additional areas, such as green technology, at the next meeting.

Failure to meet the November deadline would not be devastating, particularly since the initial timeline was aggressive for such a comprehensive economic and trade pact. A more thoughtful, considered IPEF agreement is better than a rushed one, and a quicker agreement risks leaving several partners unhappy. For example, Indonesia is pressing to include discussions of a critical minerals market in the September negotiating round. Their proposal has garnered support of several other members, including Australia. Failing to make progress on this demand could add credibility to the argument that the United States is not willing to make significant concessions within IPEF. Furthermore, given that IPEF does not include traditional features of a free trade agreement, some have questioned its enforceability and thus its durability.

The UN General Assembly: September 1926, New York City
World leaders will convene at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City for the annual gathering. Tensions will likely remain high at this year’s assembly, particularly amid frustration that Russia recently occupied the UN Security Council (UNSC) presidency. While the topic of UN reform has been a long-standing one, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has accelerated those debates. At last year’s UNGA, President Biden supported adding permanent seats on the UNSC for African, Latin American, and Caribbean countries, a step no other U.S. president has advocated for. However, comprehensive UNSC reform is nearly impossible to achieve since it would require agreement from two-thirds of member states and all permanent UNSC members. Beyond institutional reform, other major issues at the United Nations could include reviving the Black Sea grain deal, the recent coups in Niger and Gabon, and ongoing power struggles in Ethiopia.

G7 Trade Ministers Meeting: October 2829, Osaka and Sakai
The G7 has emerged as a power player this year, consolidating allied cooperation and producing a highly geopolitical agenda that spans artificial intelligence (AI) regulation, climate cooperation, economic security, and more. At the May summit, parties announced the formulation of the Hiroshima AI Process. Officials are likely to meet in September to architect their blueprint for how to manage AI risks and regulation. Setting standards on generative AI has emerged as a key fixture of policymaking in 2023, given the exponential power it offers in both civilian and military contexts. The proliferation of tools like ChatGPT, along with equivalents like Baidu’s Ernie Bot, has led to significant concern among policymakers about AI risks. In June, the White House announced commitments among major U.S. AI companies to abide by voluntary standards, which were designed to complement the Hiroshima Process. Policymakers recognize the necessity of multilateralizing AI standards. The Hiroshima Process thus plays a critical role that could complement talks at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and advance meaningful action heading into the incoming Italian G7 presidency in 2024.

In addition to the Hiroshima AI Process meetings, G7 trade ministers will convene at the end of October in Osaka and Sakai. This second meeting is intended to advance topics from the first meeting, while focusing on economic resiliency and security issues, deepening overall cooperation. Building on themes from the statement released after the first meeting, topics likely to resurface include WTO reform, combating nonmarket practices and economic coercion, building supply chain resiliency, and deepening export control cooperation. Another likely discussion topic includes the United States’ Executive Order on outbound investment, released on August 9. The G7 Leaders’ Statement on Economic Resilience and Economic Security from Hiroshima affirmed the potential importance of such a mechanism, noting, “We recognize that appropriate measures designed to address risks from outbound investment could be important to complement existing tools of targeted controls on exports and inbound investments, which work together to protect our sensitive technologies from being used in ways that threaten international peace and security.” The United States will likely seek to build greater convergence on outbound investment screening at the second meeting.

APEC Leaders’ Meeting: November 12–18, San Francisco
In November, APEC leaders will meet for several meetings, including the APEC CEO Summit, finance ministers’ meeting, annual ministerial meeting, and economic leaders’ meeting. The United States is hosting this year’s APEC summit and has prioritized expanding the digital economy, supply chain resilience, climate mitigation and related issues such as food security, and strengthening small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). While these are noble goals, parties will need to work in concert to produce concrete outcomes.

The Biden administration is also hoping that Chinese president Xi Jinping will attend the APEC summit. Despite a spike in tensions in the wake of the October 7 export controls and the “balloongate” incident, the United States has put concerted effort into reinvigorating ties with the Chinese government to de-escalate. The United States has recently sent several high-level officials to China, including Secretaries of Treasury, State, and Commerce Janet Yellen, Antony Blinken, and Gina Raimondo, respectively. A Biden-Xi meeting would be a major victory for parties hoping to thaw tensions and would add credibility to the argument that the United States is not attempting to decouple.

COP 28: November 30–December 12, Dubai
The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28) reconvenes this year amid historically high temperatures, a weakening Gulf Stream, and worldwide wildfires. Halfway to major 2030 milestones and broad goals to cut emissions by 50 percent, this year’s COP is critical in demonstrating countries’ political will to rise to the occasion to accelerate decarbonization and climate change mitigation policies. However, COP28 has already suffered credibility setbacks, particularly when the host, the United Arab Emirates, nominated an oil executive to serve as this year’s president. This move has caused significant pushback, while others have argued that this will encourage oil and gas companies to come to the table to find solutions to the climate crisis.

For the first time ever, this year's summit in Dubai will feature a “Trade Day” on December 4, bringing a larger focus on how trade can accelerate the green transition. International trade organizations, including the World Trade Organization and UN Conference on Trade and Development will lead the agenda, with issues such as supply chain decarbonization slated to take the spotlight. This is a valuable development. The nexus of trade and climate change policy is insufficiently discussed in the climate community, despite its unique ability to enforce decarbonization. Appropriate policies can help spread green technologies and know-how to developing countries. As goods such as electric vehicles, solar panels, and batteries gain more geopolitical importance, discussing measures that facilitate the fair and fast distribution of these green goods will be crucial.

Fifth TTC Ministerial: Winter 2023, United States
No firm date or location has been announced for the fifth ministerial meeting of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC), but the next meeting will occur by the end of 2023 in the United States. Its focus would likely be trying to commit to specific policy actions within its working groups, with an overall focus on economic security and outbound investment screening mechanisms. The TTC comes after a busy year in the European Union that saw the introduction of their new Economic Security Strategy in June. By December, the European Union is slated to unveil its own proposal for outbound investment and will benefit in the interim months from observing the U.S. process. A potential roadblock in discussions is the ongoing U.S. insistence that China policy play center stage. The European Union, on the other hand, would like the United States to help advance a more affirmative transatlantic agenda that spans a range of policies, such as AI risk assessments and additional green tech standards.

It will be important for the parties to arrive at concrete conclusions during this meeting. While there is a tendency to regard the TTC as an ongoing effort, it could be more appropriate to view it as a potentially limited miniseries that will not persist in perpetuity. Both the European Union and United States will enter packed election seasons that may distract from what have largely served as consultative meetings, and joint U.S.-EU cooperation across several TTC workstreams remains strong outside of the forum.

Conclusion

With President Biden’s decision to forego attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in September (Vice President Harris will attend in his stead) and President Xi’s absence from the G20, other groupings are likely to gain geopolitical prominence. The G7 will continue to serve as a powerhouse under Japanese leadership and is likely to produce multilateral standards on AI governance, which could serve as a strong signaling device about the direction of international policy on generative AI. President Xi’s snub of the G20 in favor of the expanded BRICS bloc could indicate that the politics of the G20 have simply become too complex and that pared down groupings with clearer political alignment will supplant the G20. Heading into a busy summit season serves as a potent reminder that geopolitics are dynamic and that we continue to live through history.

Emily Benson is director of the Project on Trade and Technology and senior fellow with the Scholl Chair in International Business at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Catharine Mouradian is a program coordinator and research assistant with the Project on Trade and Technology at CSIS.

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Emily Benson
Director, Project on Trade and Technology and Senior Fellow, Scholl Chair in International Business