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G20: More of the same or is another world possible?

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Picture: Michele Tantussi/Reuters (File) – World leaders arrive for a picture at the G20 Compact with Africa (CwA) meeting in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2021. The post pandemic world and the war in Ukraine has engulfed the world in several headwinds with record high energy prices, inflation, supply chain challenges and the climate crises, the writer says.

By Ashraf Patel

At the turn of the millennium, the clarion call of the global social justice movement was: Another world is possible!

The 2008 global financial crisis was a basis for the formation of the Group of 20 (G20) nations, with its core task of stabilising the global financial system and saving global capitalism from itself. Over the years major UN themes intersecting economics-trade and development have formed part of the G20 agenda, acknowledging that the global crises in the post-pandemic work are multidimensional and overlapping.

The post pandemic world and the war in Ukraine has engulfed the world in several headwinds with record high energy prices, inflation, supply chain challenges and the climate crises.

For South Africa and the African continent – both having seats at the G20, it seems more of the same. As nations prepare to meet again for the 13th annual G20 summit in Indonesia, let us unpack South African and African priorities at the G20 – and the realities of realpolitik.

South Africa’s participation in the G20 is premised on addressing the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment, including on the African Agenda, anchored in multilateral institutions, with the United Nations (UN) at the centre.

1. South Africa will continue to prioritise providing affordable access to lifesaving vaccines in Africa and in the entire developing world. In addition, the ability of developing countries and regions to build the requisite industrial capability to produce vaccines remains critical, including through a temporary waiver on TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights). However, at the WTO Ministerial Conference (MC) 2022 in June, the issue of Covid Intellectual Property (IP) waiver was not formally agreed and a watered-down version left the Developing South without any firm commitments.

2. South Africa will also promote the imperatives of technology transfer, in line with the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development. There will also be focus on the need to reflect the language on public goods in the G20 to cover a broad array of issues, including on the need for equity as far as vaccine distribution and production in countries are concerned.

3. A further priority for South Africa and developing countries is on the debt and liquidity challenges confronting low- and middle-income countries. It would therefore, be important that the G20 keep this situation under review, including the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) and Special Drawing Rights (SDR) allocation and provide the necessary support for countries to deal with this challenge. There is also a need for the G20’s continued support for the Initiative on Supporting the Industrialisation in Africa and the least developed countries (LDCs), the G20 Africa Partnership, the CwA and the commitment to addressing illicit financial flows.

4. On trade, South Africa maintains that balanced discussions on trade and investment require an appreciation of the importance of industrial policy for development. South African agricultural produce is stuck at ports across the EU, with a range of punitive trade law barriers preventing its citrus products from entering Europe, thus denying South Africa revenue and costings jobs. Meanwhile the mass dumping of poultry from many EU nations and Brazil, are damaging our local industry.

5. On climate change, South Africa will continue supporting language on the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, which is recognised in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including in the previous G20 Leaders’ Summit communiqués.

A case in point is the G7 (Group of Seven) Just Transition Partnership – effectively an expensive loan agreement that was foisted on South Africa at UN COP 26 by the United States, EU and the United Kingdom. Since the Ukraine War started, these northern nations have recommenced their own oil explorations, coal, nuclear and gas productions in order to serve their own national energy and industrial needs. South Africa seems to have been fooled into this green energy discourse, without actually prioritising its own energy, mining and industrial development.

What is clear is that the South Africa’s foreign policy approach – with a begging bowl mentality to the G7, G20 and WEF (World Economic Forum) summits in Northern capitals are unlikely to yield any substantial developmental outcomes in a post-Covid world. The war, with its multifaceted headwinds of inflation and high energy costs, the unfair burden that Africa bears, and double standards of Northern nations on climate change pathways are pushing African nations into an old colonial style role of provider of minerals and energy to the North.

Time is running out for Africa’s industrialisation priorities. Alternative economic and political paradigms rooted in national development are required, if another just world can be possible at all.

Patel is part of the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD).

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.