NEW DELHI: Argentina set out ‘building consensus for fair and sustainable development’ as the umbrella theme of its G20 presidency in 2018, which marked the 10th anniversary of the grouping. Its four priority areas were Future of work; Fourth Industrial Revolution, Health, Youth, Infrastructure for development; and Sustainable food security. Later, an agenda to work towards gender mainstreaming was also included.
While the period was marred by protectionist tendencies and economic war between nations, to the surprise of many, the Argentinian presidency fared quite well. It was hugely successful, if contextualised and looked through the nerve-wracking events that took place in 2018.
It was the first time that women empowerment found place in the summit declaration and effectively came at the forefront of the G20 agenda. Another achievement was pledging of resources for International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help members survive financial turmoil.
Most surprisingly, the summit was able to find common grounds on climate change. All the 20 members agreed that 1.5 degree centigrade was the threshold, not 2 degrees. Necessity of reforms at the WTO was also agreed upon.
Looking at these achievements in 2022, one might feel hesitant to call it a success, but the year 2018 was such that all 20 members agreeing to sign a declaration was, undoubtedly, a great feat.
While the events of 2008 brought the world together, 2018 was a difficult year for multilateral cooperation. The world stood divided. US President, Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Paris Agreement had left very little room for reaching any meaningful agreement on the issue of climate change.
On top of that, the year was marked by trade wars between the US and China. The Trump Administration’s protectionist trade policies had brought the world on the brink of global trade war. Within the first few months of 2018, the Trump Administration enacted tariffs on many imported items. In January that year, it imposed tariffs on washing machines and solar panels, which had a direct impact on South Korea and Canada, followed by steel and aluminum, a few months later. In June, Turkey retaliated and imposed tariffs on US goods.
In July, the US imposed additional tariff on Chinese product. In the same month, Russia retaliated by putting counter-tariffs against US import duties. In August, Trump threatened to impose 25 per cent tariffs on $500 billion worth of Chinese products.
Exemptions were lifted against import of steel from Canada and Mexico; both the countries retaliated. The US exempted the EU from a 25 per cent steel tariff and 10 per cent aluminum tariff in March. But it lifted the exemption in June, despite vehement opposition from Europe.
The move was especially targeted towards Germany for failing to meet NATO criteria of spending 2 per cent of its GDP on defence budget. When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau retaliated and called the tariffs “insulting”, Trump withdrew US support from the G7 joint statement of the then ongoing summit. Canada, Mexico, EU filed complaint against the US to WTO. India, too, was facing heat over H-1B visas. The US refused more than 37,000 Indian visa applications in 2018.
The world was divided; but at the end of the summit, all of the members of the G20 came together and signed a 31-point declaration. This document even included areas where there were considerable differences. like trade wars, climate change, women empowerment, reforms etc. This in itself was nothing short of a Herculean task and it deserves celebration.