Conscious of the momentum of digitalisation accelerated by Covid-19, India has made developing the digital economy one of the six policy priorities of the New Delhi Summit – and there is much to build on
Harnessing the power of digital technologies for sustainable growth has become a top priority for governments worldwide. The digital economy appeared on the agenda of G20 summits at their start in 2008, but digital challenges have since expanded exponentially, marked by a rising degree of intricacy, divisiveness and urgency. G20 leaders at their New Delhi Summit can play a crucial role in aligning the trajectory of digital transformation with the G20’s core mission of making globalisation work for all – from increasing internet penetration in the Global South to ensuring compatibility among diverse regulatory regimes.
From 2008 to 2022, G20 leaders produced 17,012 words on the digital economy, averaging 1,000 (or 7% of the total words) at each summit.
There have been two phases of G20 deliberations on the digital economy. In the first, from 2008 to 2015, the digital economy averaged 221 words (2%) per summit. Then, at the 2016 Hangzhou Summit, the number soared to 3,042 (19%). In the second phase, from 2016 to 2022, the G20 produced on average 2,115 words (16%) on the digital economy, with the 2017 Hamburg Summit having the highest number of words (5,029) and 2021 Rome the highest percentage of words (24%). At the 2022 Bali Summit, the G20 produced 1,602 words (15%) on this topic.
The G20 has produced 136 collective, future-oriented, politically binding commitments on the digital economy, averaging eight at each summit. This puts the digital economy in 11th place in terms of the total number of commitments made by subject, just behind crime and corruption (139) and above climate change (133).
The pattern of decision making resembles that of deliberations. In the first phase (2008–2015), the leaders made a total of only six commitments. In the second phase (2016–2022), they made 130 commitments. The highest number of commitments came at the 2017 Hamburg Summit, which produced 30 (6%) commitments. In Bali in 2022, G20 leaders produced 16 (7%) commitments.
The G20 Research Group started monitoring the delivery of digital economy commitments in 2015 and has now assessed 12 of the 136 commitments. Compliance averaged 69%, slightly lower than the G20’s overall average at 71%. The summits in 2017, 2019 and 2020 saw the highest compliance, of 95%, 85% and 90%, respectively. The lowest compliance came for the 2016 Hangzhou Summit, when the four assessed commitments yielded only 48%. Most recently, compliance with the 2021 Rome Summit was 78%, and by April 2023 compliance with the 2022 Bali Summit was 70%.
Causes and corrections
The G20 can improve members’ compliance in two ways.
First, G20 leaders should maximise the value of the Digital Economy Working Group. Established in 2017 as the Digital Economy Task Force and elevated to working group status in 2021, it has had a transformative effect on the G20’s delivery of digital economy commitments. Compliance with the five assessed commitments from 2015 to 2016 averaged only 50%. From 2017 to 2022, however, average compliance jumped to a solid 82%.
Second, G20 leaders can focus on subjects that have historically been associated with high performance. The three commitments on creating an enabling environment for technological breakthrough (made in 2017), improving digital infrastructure (made in 2018) and facilitating cross-border data flow (made in 2019) saw compliance rates of 95%, 93% and 85%, respectively. Moreover, the topic of consumer and intellectual property protection has seen rising performance over the years: compliance for three assessed commitments related to this issue increased from 55% in 2018 to 90% in 2020 and 83% in 2021.
The G20 has long positioned itself at the forefront of global digital economy governance, disseminating best practices and driving multilateral cooperation through consensus building and soft laws. Conscious of the momentum of digitalisation accelerated by Covid-19, India has appropriately made developing the digital economy one of the six policy priorities of the New Delhi Summit. From the G20 Repository of Digital Policies to Data Free Flow with Trust and G20 AI Principles, there is much to build on. The leaders should fully leverage the G20’s comparative advantage as an institution in governing the digital sphere to ensure that every person, business and community has access to the immense socio-economic benefits of the global digital economy.