L’Aquila, Italy: India made its voice heard on global trade and climate change at a G-8 summit in Italy this month, in a sign of growing diplomatic heft that can help it push for a bigger role in global governance.
India’s emergence is seen as a logical outgrowth of two of the world’s biggest current challenges, the financial crisis and climate change, and its ability to help resolve those problems with a trillion dollar economy still growing at about 7%.
While the slowdown spurred a shift towards economic inclusion, a landmark civilian nuclear deal with the US last year also helped India’s entry into the global order as it vies with a rising China for a say in international policymaking.
Just two years ago Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returned from a G-8 summit in Germany complaining that India was a sideshow and attending such meetings as an invitee was a waste of time.
Italy saw a far more strident India, speaking with authority on trade protectionism and climate change, which boosted hopes of Asia’s third largest economy gaining a seat at the high table of global governance.
“What has changed India’s profile is the relative dynamism of its economy - its estimated 7% growth - vis-a-vis the global economy,” said Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor of The Hindu newspaper.
“Any decision in the name of global community that leaves out China and India will not be seen as legitimate.”
US President Barack Obama said there was a need to include the big emerging players in policymaking, which India can count as a victory for its own aspirations.
At the end of the summit, Obama said tackling global challenges “in the absence of major powers like China, India and Brazil seems to be wrongheaded.”
Trade and climate
At the summit, India stirred the pot with a firm stand on climate change, refusing to give in to pressure from rich nations to sign up to carbon emission targets.
While India seeks a climate solution that does not impede growth and efforts to pull millions out of poverty, its position, along with other developing nations, underlined the difficulties of securing a new UN climate pact in Copenhagen in December.
The European Union has already hinted its frustration at what it sees as developing countries’ unwillingness to play ball, and said negotiations have slowed because too many countries were asking others to do something without acting themselves.
On the other hand, global trade talks, locked for almost a decade, got a boost at the summit after developing countries led by India and rich nations agreed to conclude the Doha Round by 2010, in a possible end to squabbles over tariffs and subsidies.
“It is the ability of India to bring some substance to the table which has put it in focus,” said Uday Bhaskar, a New Delhi-based strategic affairs expert and director of the National Maritime Foundation.
But while such issues underscore India’s growing relevance, the country’s long-term goal is to find a place at the high table of global powers and be taken as seriously as China, government officials say.
“India doesn’t want to be a one-issue or a two-issue country, but an equal partner in global decision-making”, said a senior Indian official. “I think this summit shows India has begun moving towards that goal ... India’s voice has been bolstered.”
Singh - not usually known to use tough diplomatic language - called for reforming global institutions to recognize the relevance of major emerging economies.
“It is clear to me that meaningful global action on all these issues requires a restructuring of the institutions of global governance, starting with the UN Security Council,” Singh said at the end of the summit in the central Italian city of L’Aquila.
To that end, India is participating in alternative fora like the G20 group of industrialised and developing economies and the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) gathering of the world’s biggest emerging markets.