Two hours before he departs for London to participate in a global summit of G20 nations on April 2, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has his priorities clear but words them in diplomatic and stretchable words: “It is important and necessary for the Summit to take credible decisions which will help to halt and reverse the current slowdown and to instill a sense of confidence in the global economy.”
What is less ambiguous is his agenda for the meeting with US President Barack Obama. “This will be our first meeting and will be an opportunity for us to review our bilateral relations, as well as hold discussions on important regional and global issues such as terrorism, the situation in Afghanistan, energy security and climate change,” Singh said.
He will meet Obama on April 2, a day after he meets UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
India’s No. 1 priority of fighting protectionism was way down in his 408-word statement. “We underscore the critical importance of rejecting protectionism and not turning inward in times of financial uncertainty,” the Washington Declaration that the heads of G20 had signed on November 15 had said.
“In this regard, within the next 12 months, we will refrain from raising new barriers to investment or to trade in goods and services, imposing new export restrictions, or implementing World Trade Organisation (WTO) inconsistent measures to stimulate exports.”
The number of such protectionist actions rose to 57 in the 100 days since the declaration, according to some estimates.
This is something countries such as India, China and Brazil have been vocal about. In the March 14 communique signed by finance ministers and central bank governors of G20, this stance was raised to the top slot: “We commit to fight all forms of protectionism and maintain open trade and investment.”
Reiterating that “India has benefitted from growing global interdependence as manifested in the high growth rate that we have achieved over the last five years”, Singh said what he and his team had been saying since October: “Our economic, financial and banking institutions have shown great resilience and the fundamentals of our economy remain strong.”
Keeping preparations of “coordinated fiscal stimulus by major economies”, agreements to “plug loopholes and weaknesses in the supervisory and regulatory arrangements for financial institutions” and to take “effective measures” designed to help developing countries behind him, Singh reached out to Africa and brought the continent’s economic misery on the high table of finance. “It is an unfortunate reality that the effects of the slowdown have spread across the world, and developing countries, particularly those in Africa, are facing its worst consequences,” he said.
Between wading off protectionist tendencies at G20 and discussing regional issues of terror, as well as energy security and climate change with Obama, it would be interesting to see how much of Africa the Summit will be able to factor in.