China increases Turkey’s “3 i’s” for a G-20 more relevant to the developing world

China increases Turkey’s “3 i’s” for a G-20 more relevant to the developing world

Turkey’s G-20 presidency ended with the Antalya Summit last month, and the Chinese year has already begun with the release of the document “China G-20 2016: G-20 Summit 2016, China” that underlines its priorities for 2016. Looking back at the Turkish G-20 priorities document released approximately one year ago, one remembers the three “i’s” - inclusiveness, implementation and investment. The Chinese raised the stakes to four “i’s.” The document states, “China, assuming the G-20 presidency for 2016, stands ready to work together with all members towards an innovative, invigorated, interconnected and inclusive world economy.” What does that mean? If you ask me, the Chinese document says that the G-20 is becoming more relevant for developing countries. In 2016, China will continue with the trend - initiated by Turkey in 2015 - to steer the G-20 into a more effective forum for global governance of growth, trade and investment.

Turkey held 170+ meetings over the course of its G-20 presidency - more than any previous host. The outcomes of these many meetings are reflected in the wealth of topics covered by the final G-20 communiqué of the Antalya meeting. Overall the Antalya communiqué reflected a strong emphasis on inclusiveness and developmental issues, including sustainable development goals (SDGs), energy access, climate change and refugee crises - these are highlights all critical for the G-20’s relevance to the developing world. The two items that stood out in the communiqué were the inclusion of the internet for the first time in a leaders’ declaration and the focus on small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The economic and financial agenda was less groundbreaking, with successes in these areas limited to the completion of ongoing initiatives by the Financial Stability Board (FSB) and the monitoring of progress on implementation of reforms and targets, as well as institutional capacity building. 

In order to find an even stronger case for the relevance of the G-20 to the developing world, just take a look at China’s priorities. At the very beginning, the document identifies “innovation” as an engine for global sustainable growth, which has stalled recently. The Chinese emphasized “innovation-driven development” and “across-the-board innovation in science and technology” as engines for growth. It is the first time the magic words innovation, science and technology have entered a priority document, mind you, and the Chinese used them liberally. 

I would argue that by adding innovation to the G-20 lexicon as an engine for global growth, G-20 China underlines the importance of innovation and technology for sustainable growth in the developing world, hence breathing new life into other agenda items including infrastructure, trade and employment. This also speaks directly to the developmental concerns of developing countries, initiating groundbreaking global dialogue. If previous G-20 agendas can be characterized as being mostly operational – in the sense that they address immediate challenges - the Chinese priorities hint at a more transformational emphasis for the 2016 Hangzhou summit.

The contribution of technology and innovation to sustainable growth and development was the main focus of Turkey’s Think-20, led by TEPAV in 2015. Thus, I consider China’s move an important step forward to make the G-20 more relevant to the developing world. 

Second, the focus on SDGs has been further strengthened by the Chinese priorities. As noted by OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria at the Think-20 Summit in Antalya, the G-20 development agenda is now aligned with the U.N.’s 2030 agenda. In 2016, China proposes that “the G-20 members develop national plans for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda that will further strengthen the G-20’s role in the implementation of SDGs.” Up until now, the G-20’s finance track was more structured and clear compared to the messier Sherpa track (that deals with non-financial issues such as development, trade and employment). This may not be the case. The focus on SDGs, together with the proposed national plans, has the potential to create a more structured G-20 development agenda.

Third, the Chinese have brought in a new focus to the G-20’s infrastructure agenda by emphasizing connectivity enhancing infrastructure. In my opinion this emphasis will also contribute to the G-20’s trade facilitation agenda. The Chinese emphasis on pilot projects in its development agenda makes one think about the One Belt, One Road initiative of President Xi. Notwithstanding China’s national agenda, I think the focus on connectivity-enhancing infrastructure imparts specificity to the infrastructure agenda that was lacking in 2014’s Australian agenda, which made infrastructure a G-20 priority. Also, as one may expect from the Chinese priority document, it emphasizes that existing development banks and new ones pioneered by China, including the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank and the New Development Bank (aka BRICS Bank), take joint action to support the infrastructure agenda. I must add that both connectivity-enhancing infrastructure and the addition of emerging-market led institutions to the picture are more relevant to the developing world.  

The G-20 was very important for the economic recovery of advanced economies after the 2008 crisis. We, as emerging and developing countries, kept our markets open to western multinationals. It was good for the advanced economies. At the very outset of the Turkish presidency, I had my doubts about the relevance of the G-20 to the developing world. I was saying that the main issue was to make the forum relevant to us. The success of the Antalya Summit and the Chinese priorities for 2016 right after, are reassuring. These are steps in the right direction. A transformational agenda is good for the developing world when it comes to the global governance system.