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G20 2024: Brazil’s big boost for Global South

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Picture: GCIS – Heads of state from left, Xi Jinping, China; Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil; Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa; and Narendra Modi, India; at the BRICS Summit held in South Africa, August 19 to 24, 2023. Brazil’s G20 presidency is a historic and emblematic moment in the country’s resumption of prominence on the international stage, and will mean issues that are a priority to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s third term will be put on the agenda – fighting hunger and poverty, sustainable development and global governance reform, chief among them, the writers say.

By Ashraf Patel and Philani Mthembu

A big brave world beckons in 2024 – one with huge significance for the Global South and Africa. Brazil hosts the G20 Summit which includes the African Union (AU) for the first time as a full member. Russia hosts an expanded BRICS Plus, Uganda recently hosted the 19th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and Azerbaijan hosts the UN COP 29 Climate Summit. All these have significant opportunities for the developing South, and Africa in particular.

As President Lula’s new term in office picks up momentum, he draws on the significant respect he has gained globally as a champion of the Global South and Multilateralism on key issues ranging from inequality, climate change, a fair global order, social and gender justice.

Brazil’s G20 presidency is a historic and emblematic moment in the country’s resumption of prominence on the international stage, and will mean issues that are a priority to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s third term will be put on the agenda, as follows:

  • Fighting hunger, poverty and inequality;
  • The three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental)
  • Global Governance reform

Throughout Brazil’s term at the helm of the G20 presidency, more than 100 meetings of the working groups and task forces that make up the grouping are expected to be held, both in person and virtually, at technical and ministerial level, in host cities across the five regions of Brazil. The highlight will be the summit, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in November 2024.

“If we want to make a difference, we have to put the reduction of inequalities at the centre of the international agenda. All these priorities are contained in the motto of the Brazilian presidency: ‘Building a Just World and a Sustainable Planet’,“ Lula said.

Sustainable development, which includes the energy transition and the implementation of the green economy in the country, is one of Brazil’s priorities because it is the primary tool for combating climate change.

“The energy transition presents itself to Brazil as the opportunity we didn’t have in the 20th century: to show the world that anyone who wants to use green energy to produce what humanity needs will find it in Brazil,” he said. “Our country is a safe haven for people to come, make investments and turn it into a definitely developed country.”

Reforming the system of international governance is Brazil’s third priority during his term in office:

“We want greater participation by emerging countries in the decisions of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The unsustainable foreign debt of the poorest countries needs to be resolved. The WTO needs to be revitalised and its dispute settlement system needs to start working again.

It is here that President Lula’s commitment to the reform of the Global Financial system will gain substantial traction and – in alignment with BRICS and the broader Global South, a formidable Southern agenda is on track, especially when one factors in the unique period of consecutive countries of the global South holding the G20 presidency. This has seen the G20 Presidency moving from Indonesia, India, Brazil, and in 2025 will move to South Africa.

Key Issues and Challenges at G20 in Brazil in 2024

G20 Common Debt framework: It should be noted the formation of the G20 in 2009 arose in a context of the global financial crisis that was rooted in the subprime lending in the US and UK that actually led to a global recession. Currently Africa faces its most severe debt crisis. Thus far, the G20 Common Debt framework has been more a talk shop and not yielded the results expected by the global South.

It is thus quite concerning that African nation states have faced their most pertinent debt crisis in 2023 with countries such as Ghana and Zambia heavily affected. Even the Zambian ‘debt deal’ is unravelling due to untenable terms from private creditors.

It is here that the inclusion of the AU in the G20 can contribute towards building a common voice and agenda for debt relief. It is noteworthy that the UN Secretary General decried the high cost of interest African countries are paying, which is reversing the gains of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), especially in education, hunger and health.

Fighting Hunger: Here President Lula’s major global agenda is laudable given the Workers Party (PT) has a decades long experience in expansion of the social programme Bolsa Familia, as well as land reforms. By making Fighting Hunger and Inequality a platform, it ensures that a major policy focus by the UN, multilateral development banks (MDBs) such as the World Bank and New Development Bank (NDB) gets the required focus, zoning in on sustainable agriculture, land reforms, as well as the stalled WTO process on an agreement on agriculture.

Another barrier made worse by the effects of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is that 200,000 tons of Russian fertiliser is stuck in European seaports for immediate delivery to the world’s second-largest continent. In a joint statement, Comoros, Congo, Egypt, Russia, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia “called for specific steps to remove obstacles to Russian grain and fertiliser exports, thus allowing the resumption of the full implementation of the Black Sea package initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General as endorsed on July 22, 2022 in Istanbul.

Global Governance Reform: The third big theme is for substantive reforms in Global Governance. President Lula is set to tackle the issue of IMF quotas and equity.

The WTO is at the centre of a world characterised by fractured trade and supply chain challenges. A wide range of items for possible inclusion in the next Ministerial Conference ( MC13) agenda include: dispute settlement reform; agriculture and food security; trade and development; fisheries subsidies; WTO reform (with additional sessions on trade and industrial policy, and trade and environmental sustainability); the e-commerce work program and moratorium; an MC12 decision on trade-related intellectual property rights; emergency responses; standards; global industrial and supply chains; and accessions.

The three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social, and environmental. Sustainable development forms a core agenda for Brazil in 2024. This makes sense as the Amazon is the ‘lung of the world’.

The nuance of President Lula’s focus is on a Green industrialisation pathway that can ensure industrial development, natural resources for development and industrialisation, job creation – and exports that can ensure nations get out of poverty. This pathway is possible through ensuring climate mitigation and decarbonisation by using green technologies (e.g CCTs, etc). Hence a ‘balanced sustainable development’ framework being a focus – a working green industrialisation model being developed by BRICS nations.

G20 Social as an encouraging new innovation

Given the fractured world order and ‘distance of global elites from their populations’ a new feature introduced by Lula’s G20 presidency is the G20 Social, a place where civil society can participate and contribute to discussions and policy formulations referring to the summit. The G20 Social is envisaged to encompasses activities from 12 Engagement Groups, as well as initiatives and events carried out alongside political and financial tracks and non-governmental stakeholders, and demonstrations by social actors from different G20 countries. Engagement Groups provide a broad platform for G20 members’ non-governmental participants to contribute to the grouping’s policy-making process.

The highlight will be the Social Summit scheduled for November 15 and 17, on the eve of the G20 Leaders’ Summit on November 18 and 19, 2024, both in Rio de Janeiro. The Social Summit will reflect all the proposals discussed by G20 member countries’ society representatives.

This Social forum has distant echoes of the World Social Forum (WSF) that Brazil’s Lula hosted in Porto Alegre in 2005 in Lulas first term in the highpoint of the Global South solidarity. Sadly, the world is in a highly fractured and fragile place today; yet this is an interesting innovation through the G20 Social and under Lulas grassroots approach to politics, may provide for a more substantive platform for a range of voices on key issues – fair trade, fair finance, fair green pathways, indigenous rights, gender and social cohesion and a just world order. The nature and format of the social forum can especially provide African voices to amplify the need for substantive debt relief, silencing the guns, new fair-trade rules and tax accountability of Multinational Corporations (MNCs).

Finally, in a fractured world thirsting for peace and social cohesion, The G20 Interfaith Forum, which has convened diverse religious actors inspired by the G20 agendas since 2014, looks forward to Brazil’s G20 Presidency in 2024. Through convenings in different world regions, dialogue, and analytic work, the Forum aims to contribute to the G20 process, bringing the wisdom, experience, and prophetic voice of diverse religious communities alongside other global constituencies. A centrepiece of the G20 Interfaith Forum plans is a culminating meeting in Brasilia, tentatively during the week of August 19 – 23, 2024.

The Forum’s central focus is an urgent call to action to support the world’s most vulnerable communities, who face challenges including poverty, inequality, discrimination, armed conflict, forced migration and displacement, the continuing impact of the global Covid-19 emergencies, and disruptions linked to climate change.

The aim is to advance practical action paths towards just and realistic hope and action for a better future in confronting the pressing challenges of current times, when the world and Africa is riven by religious, ethnic and gender divides. The G20 social and Interfaith forums can provide important spaces for global South voices and important people to people exchanges that can foster better understanding of humanity and critical dialogues in a conflict ridded world filled with injustices and inequalities. It will thus be important that a degree of coordination takes place amongst these social actors, including through the T20 process involving think tanks of the G20 countries.

Brazil’s G20 Presidency under President Lula, together with Russia’s 2024 BRICS Plus presidency, have the potential to propel the Global South into playing – and shaping a substantive role in Global and regional affairs in the framework of the United Nations UN SDG agenda and beyond. It will also provide an opportunity for Africa to enhance its agency in global affairs, especially through the inclusion of new members in the BRICS and the inclusion of the AU as a full member in the G20.

Ashraf Patel is Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD), an independent foreign policy think tank based in Tshwane, South Africa. Dr Philani Mthembu is Executive Director at the IGD.