Day 1 of G20 Summit: International rail corridor, addition of African Union among biggest takeaways

The inclusion of the AU is in keeping with India’s moves to include many African countries in the G20 Summit under its presidency

By Elizabeth Roche

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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Published: Sat 9 Sep 2023, 3:07 PM

Last updated: Sat 9 Sep 2023, 4:11 PM

Taking over the Group of 20 (G20) presidency from Indonesia in November 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had pledged that India’s G20 leadership of the grouping will be “inclusive, ambitious, decisive and action-oriented.”

Day 1 of the New Delhi G20 Summit, hosted by Modi on Saturday, was “action oriented” and “inclusive.”


For starters, the big achievement was the breakthrough in getting all G20 leaders to sign up to the New Delhi Declaration — the joint communique that sets out the action plan on economic issues. This in the face of a sharp West-East divide.

Though not binding as a document, the joint communique reflects the unanimous position of the leaders of the 20 developed and emerging economies -- Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union (EU) – on matters of key global economic governance and importance. It sets out the global coordinated response that can be undertaken at times of global crises.


Till early Saturday, the worry was that the New Delhi Summit could be the first (since 2008) to close without a joint statement — given the sharp differences between the Western countries on one hand, and Russia and China on the other, over the Ukraine conflict.

On Saturday, Modi announced the consensus arrived at on the Leaders’ Declaration.

That the G20 has been able to reach a consensus despite the sharp polarization underlines its credentials as a forum that can deliver. This in a world where most multilateral bodies, including the United Nations, are seen as dysfunctional. Given the poly crisis hobbling the world — slow economic growth following the Covid-19 pandemic years, the spurt in prices of food, fuel and fertilisers after the Ukraine conflict, rising living costs, spike in tensions between US and China and last but not the least the impact of climate change felt across the world – a unanimous message with measures to stimulate global growth and trade, solutions to limit the damages caused by the climate crisis, possible ways to fund climate adaptation and mitigation among others was the need of the hour.

For India, the conclusion of a joint declaration spotlights its abilities, as a middle power, to bridge divides between the West and the East and the North and the South. It burnishes India’s credentials as being adept at multilateral diplomacy, capable of ensuring deliverables for the good of the global community.

At the start of the Summit on Saturday, Modi had called on member countries to bridge “the trust deficit” bedeviling the world. He did not mention the Ukraine crisis by name but it was clear what Modi was alluding to when he said: “After Covid-19, a huge crisis of lack of trust has come in the world. Conflict has deepened this trust deficit. Just as we can overcome Covid, we can also overcome this crisis of mutual trust.”

“Today, as the President of the G-20, India invites the entire world to come together and, first and foremost, transform this global trust deficit into global trust and confidence,” Modi said in his opening remarks.

Another notable high point for India on Saturday was the unanimous inclusion by the G20 of the African Union (AU) as a full member of the grouping. With this, Modi’s promise of the Indian G20 Summit being “inclusive” can be seen as coming to fruition. It lends credibility to the Indian claim of being the “voice” of the Global South (read developing countries). It’s in keeping with India’s move to include many African countries in the G20 Summit under its presidency – Nigeria, Egypt, Mauritius and Comoros are special invitees to the two-day meet.

It is unsure if the G20 will formally change its name to G21.

But the inclusion of the AU to the G20 – where Africa was till now was represented solely by South Africa – means focusing a spotlight on the potential and problems of one of the biggest continents in the world (by way of the number of countries ie 54). It brings the AU on par with the EU, the only other such grouping of nations to be represented in the G20. The full-fledged AU membership in the G20 will help Africa take part in discussions on issues that directly affect the continent. And it also improves the credibility of the G20, that would represent about 80 percent of the global population as against the current 60 percent.

On the bilateral front, the development gives India-Africa ties a fillip. The continent has seen India and China competing for influence in recent years – a far cry from earlier days when African countries looked to India for support to break their colonial chains.

Middle-East Infrastructure project to be announced?

A possible “not-to-miss” moment on the sidelines of Day 1 of the summit is an announcement of the Middle-East Infrastructure corridor involving India, US, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The idea of connecting India with the Middle-East through rail and ports was discussed by officials of the US, India and UAE under the leadership of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in May in Jeddah. The initiative is seen as an alternate to China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI), which has sped up trade between China and Europe through rail networks. The Middle East Infrastructure corridor, backed by the US and the EU, is expected to include Jordan and Israel in the future. It comes after China brokered peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran, in a surprise move, earlier this year, raising its global profile as a peace broker. If the announcement is made, it will be also come ahead of a conference in China, planned by Beijing, to mark its Belt and Road project next month. According to news reports, Russian president Vladimir Putin is set to attend the Chinese conference, in a sign of cementing the Russia-China friendship further.

Elizabeth Roche is a professor of International Relations at Jindal Global University, India. The views expressed are her own.

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