What Mauritius should expect out of the G20

11 septembre 2023, 06:30


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What Mauritius should expect out of the G20

India, the current host of the G20, has invited Mauritius to participate as a ‘guest country’.

Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth has gone to New Delhi to attend the G20 leader’s summit in New Delhi. Mauritius has been invited as a ‘guest country’ to participate in the forum under India’s presidency. Here is why expectations of what comes out of the G20 should be muted.

Mauritius and the G20

Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth has gone to New Delhi to attend the G20 leader’s summit. India is currently hosting the forum which clubs together the largest economies from the developed and the developing world and whose membership comprises Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the UK, US and the European Union.

Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth and his spouse being received by Shripad Naik India’s Union minister for tourism and ports..jpg Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth and his spouse being received by Shripad Naik India’s Union minister for tourism and ports.

That Mauritius should be included as a ‘guest country’ at the G20 is taking place due to two factors; on the one hand, the G20 is not a formal organization, “so there is a lot of flexibility in whom the host country can invite to participate in meetings as a guest-country” explains Milan Meetarbhan, Mauritius’ former top diplomat at the UN. On the other, it is not unusual that India would choose to extend an invitation to Mauritius which is considered one of New Delhi’s most reliable friends in the region. Aside from Mauritius, India has also invited the Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, the UAE, Oman, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Nigeria to attend as ‘guest countries’. “These are all states that have similarly strong relations with India” international observer Kwang Poon points out. That Mauritius should be included in the list is the result of this strong bilateral relationship with New Delhi; where Mauritius has always been responsive to New Delhi’s strategic needs and India in return has traditionally included Mauritius at such events. During Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in 2014, for example, New Delhi invited leaders of a host of South Asian states including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, then Mauritian Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam was also included despite Mauritius not being a South Asian state. “So such an invitation to the G20 is not unusual at all, this has always been the pattern, particularly as Mauritius has deepened its security relationship with India and been generous when it comes to Agalega,” says former foreign minister Arvin Boolell.

So what does Mauritius get out of participation in the G20? Such a forum allows a small state like Mauritius to air its views on topics that directly concern it such as climate change, climate finance, multilateral lending, trade, and food security. But more tangibly, according to ex-foreign secretary Vijay Makhan, “it’s an extraordinary opportunity to conduct bilateral talks and deepen economic relationships”. One such opportunity is bilateral talks with both Modi and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, with whom Port Louis is currently involved in negotiations over the handover of the Chagos islands. “There is the main show and the sideshow at such forums,” says Poon, “for Mauritius usually it is the sideshow that is more important”.

The AU question

One significant development to come out of New Delhi is the agreement to include the 55-state African Union – of which Mauritius is a member – as a full member of the G20 on par with the European Union. In July last year, former AU Chairman and Senegalese President Macky Sall asked that the AU be included as a full member – the first such inclusion since the founding of the G20 – rather than participate only as an ‘invited international organization’. Limiting African participation to just South Africa, Sall argued, was a problem when it came to African representation on the forum; “The most pressing issues – climate change, pandemics, security, and debt – are ones that both affect Africa and on which Africa is in a position to contribute to solutions. Such a gap in African representation can weaken the G20’s credibility, traction, and representativeness”. The AU’s demand subsequently attracted near-unanimous support from other G20 members. “Africa is now sought-after, it is resource-rich and has tremendous potential just waiting to be tapped. Despite what is happening in former French colonies such as Niger and Gabon at the moment, it’s still very much the continent of tomorrow” says Boolell.

But this raises a problem; while the AU will technically participate on the same level as the EU, just how that representation will work is very different from how the Europeans do it. For example, within the EU system, the European Commission is what represents the EU at international fora. At the G20, for instance, despite the participation of other European states, an invitation was specifically sent to the President of the European Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen to represent the EU specifically.

But unlike the European Commission which is empowered to speak on behalf of the EU, within the AU, its commission has largely been kept sidelined by its members. “Very often what happens is that whichever state holds the AU presidency just tends to push its own national agenda forward,” says Makhan, who has previously served as the deputy secretary general of the Organization of African Unity (the predecessor of the AU). Africa, he adds, “has major issues like climate change, debt, energy, and economic development and these are African concerns so there should be a voice for the whole continent and not just the country that happens to head the AU at the moment. Just as the EU is represented by EU officials, the AU must be represented by AU officials but the AU has been bogged down because the AU’s member-states have not allowed the AU Commission to grow any teeth by giving it any power and have sidelined it. This is why other initiatives such as the African free trade area have faltered, because each country comes to the table with its own agenda rather than an African one”. At the G20 or the recent BRICS summit in South Africa, for example, the AU Commission was not invited, but rather the head of whichever country headed it at the time.

The problem with the G20

Despite the headlines, small states such as Mauritius should be wary of just how far forums such as the G20 are photo-ops or real avenues to resolve their problems.

While the inclusion of the AU is a positive step; just how workable is the G20 today? One problem is that the emergence of groups such as the G20 is a direct repudiation of the post-World War 2 consensus of building multilateral institutions. “What the emergence of these restricted groups like the G7 or the G20 means is that a group of the rich states recommend rules that other states may not have a choice but to comply with,” says Meetarbhan. For example, in 2021 the G20 came up with a plan to implement a global minimum tax rate of 15 percent. Should it become operational, it would directly affect financial centers such as Mauritius that had no say in drafting such rules. “Multilateralism is about the equality and sovereignty of every state and the emergence of groups such as the G20 is a setback to that. Imagine at the national level if a small group of the richest people got together to decide on national policies?” says Meetarbhan, “This is why small island developing states such as Mauritius have always been proponents of multilateral institutions, they have more to gain by them than anybody else, and why they have historically expressed reservations about restricted groups such as the G20”.

The G20 had its origins in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, originally as a forum where the G7 (clubbing together the richest Western capitals) would help large developing states come up with economic and financial policy. After the 2008 global economic crisis, it became obvious that coordinating the global economy by the G7 alone, who were making up a shrinking proportion of the world economy, would be impossible while it kept large developing states such as China out. And so the G20 was created. “If you look back, it was the financial crisis that led to the founding of the G20,” says Poon.

Although the G20 collectively represents nearly 80 percent of the world’s total economic output, 60 percent of its population, and 75 percent of total global trade, as an informal grouping without any mechanism to enforce any of its decisions, what this means is that although it has a history of making grandiose statements, it has a poor track record when it comes to implementation. Take Mauritius’ worries about climate change for example. At its summit in Rome in 2021 the G20 leaders announced that they would end the financing of coal power plants overseas. In practice, domestic investments in coal power have only soared, and since the Ukraine conflict in 2022, Germany and other G20 states have even walked back on commitments to halt financing fossil fuel projects abroad.

Geopolitical divisions

Another reason for small states like Mauritius to keep expectations about the G20 modest is just how divisions within the group have hamstrung it. When it was founded after the 2008 crash, the big players on the world stage agreed on much more than they do now and the G20 was intended as a forum primarily about economics and finance. Since then, major countries within the G20 have developed significant differences and the forum itself has expanded from economics to security and politics.

In 2017, the G20 was dominated by the conflict in Syria, in 2018 it was all about the trade war between the US and China, and following the 2022 conflict in Ukraine, the G20 was dominated by US demands that Russia be kicked out of the group and missiles falling into NATO member Poland. This has led states such as China and Russia to give less importance to the G20 – still seen as dominated by the West - and look to alternative groupings such as the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization instead.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have stayed away from the G20, highlighting the geopolitical tensions that dog the summit..jpg Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have stayed away from the G20, highlighting the geopolitical tensions that dog the summit.

The G20 meeting in India has been no exception. Chinese President Xi Jinping snubbed the summit – the first time a Chinese President has done so since the G20 was founded in 2008 – and sent Premier Li Qiang instead. “He was there for the BRICS meeting. So why stay out of the G20, is it membership of the G20 that is the problem?” asks Makhan, hinting at the Chinese preference for alternative forums where the West does not play as dominant a role. As well as to cock a snook at India with whom China has been engaged in a series of border clashes since 2020. “It could be that staying away is a deliberate attempt to diminish the outcome of this summit,” says Boolell.

Also staying away was Russian President Vladimir Putin, sending his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov instead. While according to Poon, “Modi as a shrewd politician will want to extract as much political mileage as he can for Indian elections next year”, in fact, New Delhi has been struggling to come up with a consensus within the G20, split between Russian demands that any final declaration of the summit reflect Moscow’s position on the Ukraine conflict, while the US and the EU insisting that draft statements that have been proposed don’t go far enough against Moscow. India does not want to host the only G20 summit without a final communique agreed to by the G20. “While membership for the AU could be done because everybody agreed on that, they will have to work hard on the other things in the communique,” says Makhan, “the Indians will work hard on that to come up with something that everybody can agree on”. Most likely a watered-down statement anodyne enough not to offend anybody, but not saying much either when it comes to Ukraine.

Between a divided G20 that is increasingly unable to agree on anything and a poor record of implementing anything it does agree on, Mauritius should not get its hopes up about anything coming out of the G20 other than an elaborate photo-op