Time to Walk the Talk

Time to Walk the Talk

At the recently-concluded G20 meet, the effort was to reach common ground, but the challenge lies in implementing the decisions taken.

If the number of topics discussed is a measure of success, the just-concluded meeting of the Group of Twenty (G20) - the international forum of key developed and emerging economies, including India - makes the cut. From climate change and Brexit to the perils of antimicrobial resistance to terrorism, the 7,000-word communiqu jointly issued by the G20 leaders after the two-day summit in Hangzhou, China, on September 5, identifies a host of problems and suggests remedial measures.

The Hangzhou Consensus - the package of policies and actions that has been agreed upon - calls for synergy among fiscal, monetary and structural policies of member countries. There is also a pledge to reject protectionism, and strengthen global trade and investment through the multilateral trading system. Emphasis has also been given to promote an innovation-driven 'new industrial revolution' and prop up the digital economy.

The surprise element in the long list of bold plans and strong pledges, though, was the reaffirmation of faith in the development agenda of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The major roadblock before the successful completion of the WTO Ministerial meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, last year was the insistence of developing countries, led by India, to pursue the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) before taking up new issues.

Developed nations, the US in particular, wanted DDA to be practically dumped. The ministerial statement issued in Nairobi had clearly mentioned the lack of consensus on the issue. Given this stated position, it was interesting to see that G20, which includes both the US and India, reiterate the members' commitment to shape the post-Nairobi work with development at its centre and commit to advancing negotiations on the remaining DDA issues as a matter of priority.

The Hangzhou Consensus also talks about the members' willingness to add to the agenda of WTO - something that has been high on the US priority list. The communiqu said all issues are of common interest and important in today's economy and, hence, legitimate issues for discussions in the WTO.

Interestingly, it also states that issues which are being discussed through various regional trade arrangements (RTAs) could be brought into WTO. The US is known to have incorporated several TRIPs-plus provisions in RTAs as it could not have got them ratified through WTO. The Hangzhou Consensus thus hints at the possibility of introducing issues, including high quality standards and increased level of intellectual property barriers, which countries like India have been opposing so far, in WTO discussions.

The G20 meets every year. And the host country always sets the agenda for the meeting. Last year's Summit was in Antalya, Turkey. Next year's will be hosted by Germany. China has followed up some of the pledges made in the Antalya Communique. To what extent the Hangzhou Consensus will be taken forward in Germany is difficult to predict. Transforming bold pledges into action will, therefore, remain the biggest challenge for the G20.