The G20 summit convened in the Indian capital New Delhi between 9 and 10 September against a fraught global backdrop. The Russia-Ukraine war has aggravated global crises in energy and food security which were already severe due to repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic on production levels and supply chains, and the international order is in flux as countries act on a growing desire to form stronger alliances and blocs. China is pushing hard towards a multipolar order and Beijing’s global outlook, articulated in terms such as global development, global security, multipolarity, democratisation of the UN system and reform of the post-World War II order, clashes with Washington’s unipolar outlook.
The G20 summit arrived hot on the heels of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg. In addition to discussing crucial issues of concern to developing nations, the landmark BRICS summit saw an expansion of the bloc’s membership, strengthening the group of emerging markets at a time when more and more countries are boosting domestic production to buffer themselves against shocks resulting from breakdowns in interdependence.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Egypt to attend the G20 summit during his visit to Cairo in June. Egypt’s presence at the G20, following its successful application to join BRICS, is another manifestation of Cairo’s growing international weight and reflects the increasing confidence of international institutions in the Egyptian economy: Goldman Sachs, for instance, predicts that Egypt will rank among the top ten economies sometime between 2030 and 2075. Egypt’s presence at the G20 also underscored its balanced foreign policy outlook and strategy.
Egypt has no interest in being affiliated with one bloc at the expense of another. Rather, it is seeking to diversify partnerships outside the Western bloc which is one of the reasons why other blocs want Egypt to join. Ultimately, this serves their interests and Egypt’s, especially when it comes to addressing the many problems African and other developing nations face in a multipolar world.
A few statistics illustrate how Egypt stands to gain from stronger relations with G20 countries. Egyptian exports to these countries have risen by 21 per cent, the volume of trade has increased by $88 billion and their total investments in Egypt come to $24 billion. Turkey is the top importer from Egypt while China is the top exporter.
In a landmark decision on 9 September, the G20 summit admitted the African Union (AU) as a permanent member. As chair of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Egypt is not only in a position to help the AU to achieve its goals of promoting economic integration, accelerating the implementation of the Africa Agenda for Development and mobilising resources for priority areas such as energy, communications and food security, but also to facilitate the AU’s integration into the G20. In addition, as President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi mentioned in his address at the inaugural session of the summit, Egypt is ready to host a global hub for grain storage and trade and has already taken steps to become a regional energy hub. Such actions, he said, contribute to enhancing the stability of the energy market and to remedying the food crisis in a way that promotes a multilateral international ecosystem.
It has been 75 years since Egypt and India established diplomatic relations and 62 since they were among the co-founders of the Non-Aligned Movement. The invitation to attend the summit in New Delhi reflects the closeness of the bilateral relationship between Egypt and India. A few months ago, they raised their relationship to the level of a strategic partnership, aiming to promote mutual benefits in the field of politics, security, the economy, defence and energy.
India is Egypt’s seventh largest trading partner, and the two countries plan to increase bilateral trade from the current $7.25 billion to $12 billion. Efforts are in progress to allocate space in the Suez Canal Industrial Zone to Indian investment projects. Currently, India has investments worth $3.15 billion in Egypt and the two countries are looking forward to working more closely in areas ranging from defence technology, cyber security and renewable energy to food security and strengthening resilience against supply chain shocks.
India sees Egypt as a dynamic regional power, a prominent representative of African nations and an exponent of demands for more support from industrialised nations to nations of the Global South. India has been actively advocating the causes of these countries as part of its effort to rally a large voter bloc to help strengthen its role in the international arena.
By strengthening its relations with Egypt, India will have access to a major gateway to Europe and Africa, situated in a geographically strategic location at the juncture of the two continents and astride the Suez Canal through which 12 per cent of international trade passes. Egypt can thus play a major role in helping India advance its strategy in the area between the Indian and the Pacific oceans. Egypt’s desire to expand investment in renewable energy projects, such as green hydrogen production, and in sustainable development projects, converges with the interest of Indian energy companies wishing to partner in these fields.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the latest G20 summit was the absence of the leaders of Russia and China. The former was the product of developments related to the war in Ukraine while Beijing’s decision not to attend was motivated, in large measure, by its deteriorating relations with Washington. During the G20 summit in Indonesia, the US and Chinese leaders had a meeting on the sidelines that led to an agreement on a broad framework for US-Chinese relations. This makes it all the more striking that China’s leader did not make an appearance in New Delhi.
The highlight of the summit was the acceptance of the AU as a permanent G20 member. African concerns, such as food security, migration, infrastructure development and health have been on the G20 agenda since 2010, and the AU had already been admitted as an observer. Now, with a permanent seat at the G20 table, it will have an opportunity to influence decision-making, participate in meetings on an equal footing with other members and make its voice heard on critical issues such as climate change, the global trading system and debt relief.
AU membership of the G20 will also enhance the efficacy of the Africa Initiative and help attract more investments to Africa in areas such as energy, infrastructure, and technology.
G20 membership, for which the AU had been pressing for seven years, is an acknowledgement of Africa’s increasing importance in the global order and the need for more equitable attention to be paid to the needs of developing nations. G20 members are among the top trading countries with many African nations, major exporters of the raw materials on which G20 members rely. Africa’s resources, agricultural capacities and many other potentials are why it has become a major factor in the competition between rival powers, manifested in the policies of India, China, Russia, and the US.
Despite differences between the participants, and with the absence of the Chinese and Russian leaders, the summit tackled many issues, one of the most important being debt. For many developing nations, debt has become an unsustainable burden and developed nations need to step up to help finance developing nations’ efforts to overcome the challenges they face in meeting sustainable development goals. The summit also addressed climate change, with an emphasis on the principles of climate justice and climate support for developing nations which are the countries affected most adversely by climate change.
In this spirit, the participants discussed financing developing nations’ climate action projects and transition to low-carbon economies. India managed to persuade other G20 members of the importance of forging an international biofuel alliance, furthering one of its most important foreign policy goals related to renewable energy. India’s energetic and successful hosting of the G20 summit even led some analysts to suggest it could act as a mediator between the US and Russia over the Ukraine crisis given New Delhi’s close relations with both sides.
The writer is a researcher at the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies (ECSS).
* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly