G20 Summit: EU-Mideast-India trade plan launched

NEW DELHI: A broad alliance of states on Saturday unveiled ambitious plans to create a modern-day Spice Route linking Europe, the Middle East and India, boosting trade ties with potentially wide-ranging geopolitical implications. The United States, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, the United Arab Emirates and others launched the initiative to link railways, ports, electricity and data networks and hydrogen pipelines on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in New Delhi.

Although heavily trade-focused, the scheme could have wide-ranging implications. Signatories hope it can help integrate India’s vast market of 1.4 billion people with countries to the west, offer a counterbalance to lavish Chinese infrastructure spending and boost Middle Eastern economies. “This is a real big deal,” said US President Joe Biden at the launch event, calling the plan “historic”.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the so-called India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor was “much more than ‘just’ a railway or a cable”. “It is a green and digital bridge across continents and civilizations,” she said. One proposed project would link railway and port facilities across the Middle East — including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Zionist entity — potentially speeding trade between India and Europe by up to 40 percent.

According to details seen by AFP, the economic corridor would develop infrastructure to enable the production and transport of “green hydrogen”. It would also strengthen telecommunications and data transfers through a new undersea cable connecting the region. French President Emmanuel Macron said work was now needed to make the plan “real”.

All the projects could also help oil-soaked Middle Eastern states wean their economies off dependence on fossil fuels. Michael Kugelman, South Asia Institute director at The Wilson Center, said the plan could be a significant response to China’s much-vaunted Belt and Road Initiative. The so-called BRI has spread Chinese influence, investments and commerce across Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Meanwhile, G20 leaders papered over deep divisions on the war in Ukraine and tackling climate change Saturday, avoiding direct criticism of Moscow and any concrete pledge to phase out polluting fossil fuels. Leaders of the grouping, which brings together Russia as well as some of Ukraine’s most ardent backers, have struggled to agree on much, in particular about the 18-month-old invasion.

But facing a major diplomatic embarrassment, host India had pressed members to agree a common statement at a two-day summit in the capital New Delhi. With Vladimir Putin staying home to dodge political opprobrium and the risk of arrest on war crimes charges, the Group of 20 denounced the use of force for territorial gain but refrained from direct criticism of Russia by name. “There were different views and assessments of the situation,” the leaders’ statement said.

European nations and the United States had pressed for the G20 not to water down its earlier condemnation of a war that has caused food and fuel price spikes worldwide. With long-time Russian ally India in the G20 chair, Ukraine’s allies appeared to have failed in that bid. Kyiv’s foreign ministry denounced the statement as “nothing to be proud of”, but a top White House official said Washington was happy with the outcome.

On climate, too, the G20 found minimal common ground, despite meeting in what the EU’s climate monitor says is likely to be the hottest year in human history. With major fossil fuel producers including Saudi Arabia, Russia and Australia — and coal-dependent nations such as India and South Africa — around the table, there was no overarching commitment to phase out the polluting fuels.

Such a measure was deemed “indispensable” by the United Nations just a day earlier to achieve a net-zero goal. Instead, G20 countries pledged to triple renewable energy sources by 2030 while committing only to a “phasedown” of coal “in line with national circumstances”. The G20 leading economies account for 85 percent of global GDP and a similar amount of global climate-warming emissions.

On reaching the final agreement, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanked leaders for their “hard work” and banged a ceremonial gavel to adopt the declaration. Modi had a heavy personal investment in the success of the summit, which he has billed as India’s diplomatic coming of age and has used to boost his domestic standing ahead of elections next year.

In another win for Modi’s efforts to portray his country as a voice for the Global South, the African Union on Saturday joined the G20 to give the continent broader representation. “With everyone’s approval, I request the African Union head to take his seat as a permanent G20 member,” Modi said, claiming it turned the grouping into a “people’s G20”.

The African Union represents 1.4 billion people across 55 members — including six junta-ruled nations that are currently suspended. “As a continent, we look forward to further advancing our aspirations on the global stage using the G20 platform,” Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is at the summit, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. – AFP

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