India and the G-20

The upcoming G-20 summit meeting in Washington provides an opportunity for India to help shape the new global economic architecture in line with its strategic and economic interests. India should propose short-term, crisis response actions to help limit the economic downturn; advance a clear, medium-term agenda; and push for a political commitment by all countries to keep markets open and prevent trade barriers from going higher.

Although the G-20 has been in existence for nearly a decade, this is the first G-20 summit meeting, and many participants will be looking to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a respected economist in India and throughout the world, for a particular contribution.

What does India bring to the G-20 table? As a long-time spokesperson for the G-77, India has a record of assuming a leadership role. But in the past, this role was often used to assert India’s right to retain sovereignty. In the words of Strobe Talbott, the former diplomat who now leads the Brookings Institution, India has been on many issues a “sovereignty hawk,” protecting its own interests at the expense of global cooperation on issues ranging from nuclear proliferation to trade. But with India’s growth, and in an era of globalization, its interests—and its perception of its interests—have changed. India now has a keen stake in sustaining an open global trading system. Accordingly, its leadership should now be harnessed for a different cause. Moreover, India has begun to realize that it needs to contribute to sustaining this system rather than assuming that the status quo can be taken for granted. But trading partners are wary of India, viewing India’s role in the trade negotiations as unhelpful. It would be a singular achievement if India can manage to reassure G-20 participants on this score. In short, leadership comes naturally to India. The question is going to be the cause for which India harnesses this leadership role.

As Aaditya Mattoo of the World Bank and I have argued [pdf], for India the medium-term agenda should include: First, reforming the financial architecture, including by strengthening the International Monetary Fund’s capacity to respond to crises and enhancing its legitimacy through radical governance reform to give greater say to the emerging powers. Second, securing the future openness of the trading system, which would require a commitment to go beyond completing the current Doha agenda in two ways: deepening rules in existing areas (especially services) and developing rules in new areas (to deal with undervalued exchange rates, cartelization of oil markets, investment restrictions and environmental protectionism). Third, reforming the makeup of the bodies involved in global decision-making, including the creation of a more representative membership than the G-7.