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June 19, 2012

A new age Panchsheel

A new five-pronged strategy for India in global negotiations

Multilateral negotiations are undergoing a tectonic shift. Whether one looks at the negotiations in the WTO arena, the Rio+20 process or the most contentious of them all, climate change negotiations, the story is the same – the nature of negotiations, the power equations, the tactics deployed are fundamentally changing, and the stakes are getting higher than at any time in history. This presents both an opportunity and a threat to India – India must fundamentally reassess the way it engages in this evolving world order if it is to ensure its interests are protected and advanced.

A Shifting Global Reality

There are four related changes that are taking place today.

First, the global power dynamics are changing. With the rapid growth of many developing economies, and the weakening of growth in the developed economies, there is more skin in the game for both, especially from an economic competitiveness perspective. As a result countries in both groups are taking the negotiations that much more seriously and negotiations are becoming more adversarial.

Second, and as a result, the traditional developed versus developing country paradigm is fundamentally changing. Increasingly, the world is now being seen as comprising not two, but three blocks – Developed Economies, Large Emerging Economies, and Least Developed Economies (in which Africa and Small Island Nations are often included). Some countries are tactically promoting this new paradigm in negotiations. Formations such as G20 are further blurring the traditional developed vs. developing paradigm.

Third, vibrant domestic civil societies, spurred on by new media platforms, are holding governments much more accountable for their negotiating positions. Every move of the negotiators is open to real time analysis, scrutiny and critique.

And fourth, as a result of all this, multilateral negotiations are becoming harder and more intractable. Progress is painfully slow. Negotiations are becoming more intense and detail oriented. Arguing whether to use could or should in a negotiating text can take several days and words like square brackets have taken a life of their own. Small outcomes are over-analysed by an increasing army of experts who have made negotiation-watching a full time profession.

Photo: Tuppus

Implications for India

For India, this provides a moment of reckoning – a moment of many new opportunities as well as threats. If India adapts well, it can ride on the wings of this change, opening up new partnerships and strategic opportunities for itself. If it fails to grasp the moment, India can end up exposing its economy to long-term constraints that can hinder its competitiveness and its development agenda.

A New Age Panchsheel

Here are five things that must immediately form part of India’s new strategy.

First, India must go on an economic growth overdrive. This might sound obvious but the fact is that size matters. China can today impose anti-dumping duties on US car imports because its GDP is three times that of India. Brazil can sue American oil companies for $10billion because its GDP per capita is four times that of India. The best way to win the theoretical arguments of per capita entitlements and right to development space that we love to espouse in international negotiations is by growing our economy faster and becoming a larger force to reckon with. This is exactly what China has done. We cannot continue to argue about our right to development space in the international negotiating arena as a matter of right, if we are not doing our bit to capture it for ourselves. Of course this is not an argument for economic growth at all costs — the distributional and environmental aspects of growth must be recognised and factored into the policy-making rubric.

Second, as multilateralism reaches its limits, India must enhance bilateral and plurilateral partnerships and increasingly make these the pillars of our economic diplomacy. It is becoming increasingly clear that multilateralism, which requires decisions by consensus between the 194 countries of the world, will move forward only slowly and painfully. The examples of WTO and climate change negotiations clearly tell us that. In this environment, India must vigorously pursue the bilateral agenda. The strategic partnerships with Russia and Japan are good examples. India must use these for concrete economic results. It must also invest in meaningful economic partnerships with Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Africa, through enhanced investments, aid flows and capacity building assistance. Making LDCs, Small Island Nations and Africa feel special will help us immensely in multilateral negotiations, where these countries are often baited by developed country negotiators. Other emerging economies seem to be doing this much more effectively than India, although India has picked up its game in the last few years, especially with Africa.

Third, India must sound positive and talk the sweet talk well in global negotiations– it must be seen to be a deal-maker, not a deal-breaker. We have a tendency to fall in love with our ability to articulate well in the English language, and feel most comfortable in our anti-west and anti-developed country rhetoric. While this was fine during the Cold War, today provides a new reality to which we must adapt. Our political leaders and negotiators must realise that there is no point in becoming unnecessarily dogmatic and jingoistic in negotiations, which, while sounding victorious to domestic audiences, leads to a loss of political capital and isolation within global negotiations. Here one can learn from China, which is today seen by many as being more constructive in international negotiations than India. We must also go into public relations and media overdrive engaging the media and the public deeply and consistently, not episodically. It becomes imperative to make them understand our positions and scuttle the anti-India rhetoric that seems to be emerging in the international media, especially in the climate change space.

Fourth, India must strengthen negotiating coalitions, but should not allow these coalitions to make it complacent. A good example is the BASIC bloc in climate change negotiations that comprises India, China, Brazil and South Africa – the group of rapidly growing relatively large developing economies. Over the last two years, India has invested heavily in strengthening this bloc, both at the negotiator and expert level and this has served it well. However, India must recognise the limitations of these coalitions as the ground realities and levels of development of individual countries are very different. India must anticipate the positions coalition members will take and be prepared for a response when others’ positions change.

Fifth, and most importantly, India must strengthen its core negotiating skill-set and negotiations preparation, an area where it sorely lacks and often comes out exposed. Negotiations are now an increasingly sophisticated art with deep areas of specialised expertise. At the Cancun Climate Change summit, India had a delegation of about 25 (mostly officials), while countries like the U.S., China and Brazil had teams of over 100 including lawyers, economists, scientists, psychologists. Indian delegations typically lack these inter-disciplinary skills. Basic negotiations training must be given to all our negotiators – we must go beyond just red lines, and concepts like BATNA and Plan B must become part of our negotiating lexicon. We must broaden the expertise in our negotiating teams, bringing in a cadre of expert negotiators from multi-disciplinary fields – law, economics, science, psychology – into the core of our negotiations. This negotiating group must be freed from administrative file work, which takes up the bulk of the time of our official negotiators, and we must give a team some continuity of tenure, rather than finalising our lists at the very last minute.

India needs a paradigm shift in the way it approaches global economic negotiations. It can no longer view these negotiations as a side-show for which it scampers at the last minute. The stakes are getting very high and India must not and cannot be seen wanting anymore. It is a moment where India has to step up its game to adjust in this changing reality; if nothing else, for the sake of our future generations that we love to extol in our speeches at these negotiations.


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