Home/ Opinion / Columns/  A look-back as we look forward to global cooperation

The United Nations’ recent general assembly session saw headlines in the Indian press focusing on India’s foreign minister S. Jaishankar upbraiding his Pakistani and Chinese counterparts at the United Nations Security Council for extending state support to cross-border terrorism. But beyond the minister’s stinging remarks, the three countries (India, Pakistan and China) orchestrated another resolution in the general assembly that will have some resonance over the next 12 months.

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Before moving to the next year, it’s important to think about the past 12 months because of the extraordinary influence they will have on the immediate future. Recalling the year gone past invokes a disturbing collage of images: an avoidable war, broken supply chains, rising commodity prices (mainly of fuel and food), stubborn inflation, coordinated interest rate hikes by central banks across the world, volatile currency and equity markets, the spectre of recession, rising debt levels in poor nations and climate change emerging from the background to the forefront as a significant X-factor. These aggravate the existing problems of poverty and inequality. Many of these problems will spill over into the new year, defying simple solutions. For example, cessation of hostilities in Ukraine (if it happens) will probably correct some of the skews, but is incapable of sorting out all the structural problems. The pandemic, or growing financial instability risks or emerging socio-economic risks will continue to exert their baleful influence—on the system and on each other—and result in the same impasse.

This perpetuation of structural problems has the potential of sharpening differences and antagonism between the Global North and South. Signs of it are already emerging. Here is an example: at the June ministerial of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), all member nations had decided that intellectual property rights should be waived for covid vaccines produced in developing countries. However, a similar agreement eluded covid-related medicines and diagnostics, which members agreed to decide upon within six months (by 17 December 2022). At a meeting on 16 December, a section of members (led predictably by developed countries) have sought a deadline extension.

Here is another example. Rich nations agreed, rather reluctantly, at the recently concluded CoP-27 in Egypt to set up a loss-and-damage fund for poor nations ravaged by climate change. So far, so expedient. There is little clarity, though, on the modalities—how the fund will be financed and how the proceeds will be distributed. Finalizing the processes and structural framework is likely to tie up the putative financing in multilateral haggling for some time to come. In the meantime, the risks of climate change and ensuing damages accelerate.

An indication of future posturing by advanced nations was also available at the UN’s general assembly meeting this month, its 77th session. In September 2022, the general assembly had decided to include in the session’s agenda the item “Globalisation and Interdependence" and discuss the UN’s role in promoting development within this broad rubric. The discussions were foregrounded by two documents: reports of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on ‘Towards a New International Economic Order’ and ‘Fulfilling the Promise of Globalization: Advancing Sustainable Development in an Interconnected World’. That resolution, interestingly, was backed by the Group of 77, which includes both India and Pakistan, as well as China.

These two reports from the Secretary General express concern over, among other things, the growing strain of de-globalization, rising debt burdens in less developed economies, thinning out of development assistance financing, which could aggravate the indebtedness, and a widening digital divide.

The pandemic forced many under-developed countries to provide extraordinary fiscal stimulus in support of lives and livelihoods, thereby aggravating indebtedness. Yet, when the general assembly adopted a resolution to explore the means and instruments of achieving debt sustainability and to examine ways of reducing indebtedness of poor nations, there were 123 votes in favour and 50 against. There are no prizes for guessing that the opposing votes originated from the developed world.

It seems that the West, especially the US and EU, is still a prisoner of a mindset that harks back many decades, visible especially in its response to recessionary prospects. In fact, the Western world perhaps needs to rethink its strategy for combating rising food and fuel prices as the current slowdown tightens its grip. The answer might not lie in consecutive interest rate hikes, a response which increasingly looks like a 1970s style solution for a 2022 inter-connected world and threatens to push the global economy deeper into an abyss. One possible solution could lie in rejuvenating moribund global trade systems, especially for food and agri-products, which remain loaded against poor and emerging economies; all attempts at reforms in the past have been blocked by advanced nations.

Hopefully, India’s G20 presidency during 2023 will not only foster closer cooperation within the Global South for overhauling outdated multilateral frameworks, but will also drive realization that the world’s new inter-connected skein of problems—termed ‘polycrisis’ by experts—needs a new toolbox of solutions.

Rajrishi Singhal is a policy consultant and a senior journalist. His Twitter handle is @rajrishisinghal.

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Updated: 19 Dec 2022, 11:00 AM IST
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