Saudi Arabia’s G20 presidency came at crucial time, with the world facing an unprecedented pandemic. How did Saudi Arabia deal with the global challenges resulting from Covid-19?
The world was taken off guard by the Covid 19 pandemic and its effect on people’s lives, the global economy, supply chains and health infrastructures. There was a need to act in a swift and coordinated manner in order to minimize these repercussions. Millions of people were affected and thousand died at the early stages of the pandemic that knew no borders or nationalities. These challenges were unprecedented and as an important grouping formed to lead the world in dealing with economic and financial crises, the G20 had a responsibility and a role to fulfill. Under Saudi Arabia’s leadership, the G20 rose to the challenge in a momentous manner.
There was a need to figure out the best ways to protect people against the spread of the pandemic by ensuring adequate financing and adopting preventive and protective measures to be adhered to by the global community. Consequently, the G20 nations pledged USD 21 billion towards public health requirements to combat coronavirus. The Kingdom joined international organizations and global partners to launch the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. Saudi Arabia co-led the Global Coronavirus Pledging Event to meet the global need for developing and distributing vaccines and diagnostic tools and contributed USD 500 million towards that end.
It was pertinent to help in building capabilities to cope with the pandemic, especially in the most vulnerable countries. To this affect, member countries agreed to the historic Debt Suspension Service Initiative, now extended till June 2021, which provided immediate liquidity relief by the bilateral official creditors. The initiative has benefitted 44 of the world’s poorest countries, with over 1 billion people benefitting so far.
And then came the issue of dealing with the economic impact and restoring the flow of trade and supply chains. We worked incessantly towards economic restoration throughout the year. The G20 committed USD 11 trillion to support the global economy aiming to enable swift and effective economic recovery for all, especially the most vulnerable groups. Multilateral development banks have made collective commitments of approximately USD 230 billion in 2020 for low-income countries. Moreover, a comprehensive support package of over USD 88 billion has been deployed by the IMF to 81 countries since March 2020.
Saudi Arabia constantly endeavored to provide a strong leadership during these testing times and many milestones were achieved on the way. For the first time in the history of G20, two Leaders’ Summits were held.
The Saudi Presidency, in cooperation with member countries and G20 working groups, has responded efficiently to the challenge.
Can you elaborate on the theme ‘Realizing Opportunities of the 21st Century for All’? How far has G20 been successful in achieving the goals set under the theme?
As we faced global economic and environmental challenges that have been with us for some time, the G20 presidency saw opportunities looming that could be realized through making use of technological innovation, cooperation, and creative thinking. There were opportunities in the field of ecology, sustainable development, innovation in healthcare and last but not the least in ensuring robust supply chains and effective trade mechanisms.
So the theme of ‘Realizing Opportunities of the 21st Century for All’ reflected this vision and understanding. The presidency worked with G20 members on three essential pillars which are vital to the world’s progress. These are: empowering people with a focus on youth and women, and tackling inequalities; safeguarding the planet by fostering collective efforts to protect natural resources and putting sustainability at the heart of the agenda; and finally, shaping new frontiers by adopting long term and bold strategies to share the benefits of innovation and technological advancement and build a resilient future for the world.
In the area of climate change, the G20 has established the Circular Carbon Economy (CCE) Platform, a tool towards affordable, reliable and secure energy. The CCE approach can help address crucial issues facing the world in achieving universal access to energy.
In the area of trade, enhancing global trade to accelerate economic recovery with a transparent system and a strong leadership was a priority for the presidency in 2020.
Saudi Arabia has spearheaded the effort to reform the World Trade Organization (WTO) through the Riyadh Initiative on the Future of the WTO, an initiative to take crucial steps towards reforming the WTO and the multilateral trading system.
Empowerment of women and youth by promoting access to financial opportunities was a significant goal set by the G20 presidency. Instrumental in this was the W20, a specific group of the G20 focused on fostering gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. The Private Sector Alliance for the Empowerment and Progression of Women’s Economic Representation (EMPOWER), a forum constituted by G20, developed an action plan to identify key focus areas and conduct global research to advocate for the advancement of women in leadership positions in the private sector.
Health came as a surprising challenge and was dealt with vigor. The G20 committed USD 21bn in support of global health systems, search for a vaccine and supporting international efforts to overcome the pandemic.
What has G20 done to ensure the global economy is better prepared for such crises in the future, especially with regards to global supply chains?
The current crisis has been a tough test for world economy and trade. But it also showed how the world economy is interdependent and how viruses can surpass borders and cascade to become a pandemic that touch the life of every individual in a way or another. The G20 is a grouping that represents more than 80% of world GDP and 60% of the population of the planet and it was hence important to take responsibility and to act responsively through testing times.
Following the Extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit held in March 2020, G20 member nations committed to ensure the flow of medical supplies, critical products, and other goods and services across international borders.
The G20 trade and investment ministers met virtually on June 15. During the meeting the ministers pledged to promote necessary reform of the World Trade Organization to improve its function to effectively deal with future crises, explore Covid 19 related initiatives to promote open and resilient supply chains to expand trade and to strengthen cooperation between authorities responsible for trade regulations.
The Saudi G20 Presidency has effectively achieved consensus to work together to bridge gaps in global supply chains by encouraging policies to strengthen cooperation between multinational companies, trade organizations and government authorities to build resilience in global supply chains.
How have Saudi Arabia and India as strategic partners worked together to drive outcomes through the G20 platform?
We worked together indeed.
Both the nations have constantly deliberated on matters of common concern, especially since the Covid 19 situation unraveled. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had discussed the challenge of Covid 19 on a telephonic conversation in March. In September, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bi Abdulaziz Al Saud and Prime Minister Modi discussed our bilateral ties and the current Covid situation.
We value the knowledge and experience that India has brought to the G20 through discussions during the ministerial meetings. Saudi Arabia and India share a similar vision for growth and inclusive development. The resolve of the leadership on both sides to deliver solutions not only for their people but the global community will play a significant role in dealing with challenges posed by the Covid-19.
How have the ties between Saudi Arabia and India strengthened in last one year?
The current decade has witnessed a remarkable stride in the relations between Saudi Arabia and India. From energy cooperation, security and defense, burgeoning trade to health cooperation, the nature of this relationship has diversified immensely and transformed into robust strategic partnership. The leadership on both sides have heralded this transformation for Saudi – India ties.
During the historic visit of HRH Crown Prince to India in February 2019, the two countries identified tens of opportunities of joint collaboration and investment across various sectors. They agreed to align the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 Realization Programs with the Indian government’s initiatives of ‘Make in India’, ‘Smart Cities’ among others. Since then, Saudi – India ties have witnessed significant growth. During the visit, the Strategic Partnership Council was announced, paving way for enhanced cooperation in various fields. Later last year, the visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Riyadh in October 2019 witnessed the signing of the Strategic Partnership Council between Saudi Arabia and India.
Moving ahead, the significance of the Saudi – India partnership was at the forefront during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, after a phone call between Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit was held virtually.
India facilitated travel for hundreds of medical professionals to Saudi Arabia to join their places of work in the Kingdom and contribute in fighting the virus. The year 2020 has been characterized by strengthened energy cooperation, security and defence cooperation, trade and investment and most importantly, health cooperation in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
We are certain that this uptick in the strategic ties between our two friendly countries will continue to grow, especially with the opportunities being created in the Kingdom by Vision 2030 and its 13 Vision Realization Programs that are tied to 5 year milestones. Vision 2030 aims to attract foreign investment and establishing Saudi Arabia as a global hub.
The ‘Labour Relation Initiative’ (LRI) that has been launched in Saudi Arabia recently by the Ministry of Human Resource and Social Development is in line with the Saudi Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Programme. This initiative aims to enhance the contractual relationship between workers and employers, and will support the Kingdom’s vision of establishing an attractive job market for all.
Indians are among the largest expatriate communities in the Kingdom. The latest initiative will uphold the rights of expatriate workers, as well as improve the labour market efficiency. It will also reduce the disparity between Saudi labor and expatriates.
We are committed to the welfare of expats in the Kingdom. Vision 2030 will create opportunities for Saudis, expats as well as businesses from world over. According to vision 2030 goals, millions of job opportunities will be created in the Kingdom. We realize that achieving our desired rate of economic growth will require an environment that attracts skills and capabilities both from within the Kingdom and beyond our national borders. We want to attract and retain the finest Saudi and foreign minds.
It is reported that Saudi Arabia had tacit support for the Abraham Accords. How do you look at the opening with Israel?
As on December 5, 2020, Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah, Minister of Foreign Affairs has stated that Saudi Arabia remains open to fully normalize ties with Israel on the condition of Palestinian statehood and for the Kingdom, Palestinian statehood remains a prerequisite to normalization. He also said that getting Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table is key, adding that a Palestinian state will deliver true peace in the region.
He [Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah, Minister of Foreign Affairs] reiterated that the Kingdom has always been open to full normalization with Israel but in order for that to happen, and for it to be sustainable, we do need the Palestinians to get their state.