The G20 Summit was held in Osaka, Japan on 28 and 29 June 2019. Prime minister Narendra Modi participated in nine bilateral meetings, eight pull-aside meetings, two plurilateral meetings namely, Japan-America-India (“JAI”) and Russia-India-China (“RIC”) and one multilateral meeting, comprising of Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (“BRICS”) in addition to four G20 meetings.
2. Key issues
Cross border data flows
India boycotted the Osaka Track at the G20 Summit. The Osaka Track demonstrates the signatories’ commitment to international policy-making favoring free cross border data flows and the digital economy. India’s G20 ‘Sherpa’ (the personal representative of a head of government), Suresh Prabhu, declined to elaborate upon India’s reasons for not signing the Osaka Track, stating that while India believed in a digital market, it had already submitted its reasons to the Japanese prime minister. Indian foreign secretary, Vijay Gokhale, said that since data was a new form of wealth, the issue of the free flow of data should be discussed within the World Trade Organisation (“WTO”). Gokhale also said that the needs of developing countries should be accounted for when discussing data. He added that the “movement of data is one form of trade” and that India would negotiate its domestic requirements for the ‘free flow of data’ at the WTO. However, at the informal BRICS meeting, India committed to “transparent, non-discriminatory, open, free and inclusive international trade”. South Africa and Indonesia also refused to sign the Osaka Track.
Modi spoke about his vision for using the digital economy and artificial intelligence for social benefit the five principles of inclusiveness, indigenization, innovation, investment in infrastructure, and international cooperation (also called the “5Is”). India also committed to using technology and innovation for ‘internet driven poverty alleviation’ at the BRICS meeting. Modi and Trump agreed that India and the US could leverage their synergies to collaboratively develop 5G technology.
Artificial intelligence and digital tax
G20 nations agreed to a set of principles governing the use of AI (“AI Principles”). The AI Principles focus on improving sustainability, responsible stewardship, accountability, safety and fairness in the use of artificial intelligence. Prabhu also emphasized the need to tax virtual assets. However, this issue was not discussed in detail.
5G and Huawei
Chinese President, Xi Jinping urged Modi and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin to “expand cooperation in 5G network” at the RIC meeting. This move follows the Trump administration’s campaign to prevent India and other countries from engaging Huawei to import 5G technology. Jinping emphasized the importance of adopting 5G technology by stating that it is at the heart of the “fourth industrial revolution”. RIC will meet again at Eastern Economic Forum at Vladivostok in September 2019, where this issue is likely to be discussed in more detail. The US President, Donald Trump mentioned about discussing Huawei with India. However, only research & development collaborations in the telecommunication industry were discussed. There were no specific outcomes concerning Huawei. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo had recently suggested that Japan, US, and India could collaborate on 5G technologies but no such discussions were reported from the JAI meeting. Modi also emphasized that India’s billion user market would play a crucial role in determining the global trend for 5G.
India along with the other BRICS countries argued that the WTO should remain central to the “rules-based multilateral trading system” to push for transparent, non-discriminatory, open, free and inclusive international trade. The US, however, strongly criticized the WTO. Further, Modi discussed ways to deepen cooperation in trade, investment, defense and counterterrorism with leaders of Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey, Australia, Singapore and Chile amongst others as part of his bilateral meetings. All members, except the US, reaffirmed their commitment towards implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change. India also called for joint action against fugitive economic offenders.
The Indian delegation’s comments at the G20 Summit and India’s abstinence from signing the Osaka Track indicate that the Indian government’s current position on data localization is unlikely to change in the near future. Modi’s 5Is indicate that social inclusion through technology will be central to the Indian government’s policy this year. However, the government will seek to achieve this inclusion through indigenous innovation.
Experts have commented that the positive Modi-Trump meetings disapprove the recent narrative of declining Indo-US relations. Commentators believe that the US may be trying to downplay its differences with India when two of its principal rivals are improving relations with the country. It is also being suggested that Modi’s participation in meetings with RIC, BRICS and JAI leaders showcases India’s pragmatism and should not be confused with a returning ‘non-alignment’ attitude, while there are others who believe that India’s multi-alignment strategy might be turning into a tactical non-alignment strategy.
(Authored by Vihang Jumle and Ila Tyagi, Associate, with inputs from Nehaa Chaudhari, Public Policy Lead at Ikigai Law.)