Japan will host the Group of Twenty (G20) summit in Osaka on June 28 and 29. As the only member in the G20 from Africa, SA will play a decisive role in policies discussed. On the agenda are the following; sustainable growth in the global economy, climate change and marine plastic pollution. As well as digital innovation, big data and robotics.​ Illustration: KAREN MOOLMAN
Japan will host the Group of Twenty (G20) summit in Osaka on June 28 and 29. As the only member in the G20 from Africa, SA will play a decisive role in policies discussed. On the agenda are the following; sustainable growth in the global economy, climate change and marine plastic pollution. As well as digital innovation, big data and robotics.​ Illustration: KAREN MOOLMAN

Japan will host the Group of Twenty (G20) summit in Osaka on June 28 and 29. This premier forum for international economic co-operation brings together many developed countries, and emerging countries with a growing presence in the international economy. The G20 countries currently embrace more than 80% of the global economy and more than 60% of the world population. Therefore, G20 members have to assume special responsibility for the global economy.

SA, as the only member in the G20 from the African continent, is expected to play a decisive role to co-ordinate development efforts and economic policies of African countries and the G20. The foundation for African economies is inextricably connected to the Osaka G20’s priority agendas, namely sustainable growth, global challenges and digital innovation.

Sustainable growth

Sustainable growth in the global economy is one of the priority areas of G20 discussions. The G20 members need to co-ordinate their efforts to remove existing uncertainties. In this context, regaining confidence in the multinational trading system is one of the most urgent tasks G20 members are facing. The reform of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) remains an important priority for Osaka.

The G20 members need to provide strong political impetus for a better functioning WTO. In this regard, Japan has a firm political will to lead the world, keeping the flag of free trade waving high and maintaining and developing multilateral free trade systems.

The global economy will never grow in a sustainable way if we fail to deal with disparities. The growth should be more equitable and inclusive. Towards achieving this goal while dealing with projected demographic change, the Japanese presidency will focus on women empowerment and introduce the issue of ageing populations for the first time as a topic at the G20.

As one of Japan’s initiatives, the government has since 2014 held an annual World Assembly for Women in Tokyo, inviting top global leaders to tackle issues relating to women, from various countries and international organisations. At Osaka we will promote efforts to improve labour participation by women, as well as measures to foster environments conducive to greater empowerment, including education and entrepreneurship.

As for the ageing population, there has been strong support among the G20 members to deepen the discussion on this subject as an important issue to be solved for more inclusive growth. Japan, with experience as a frontrunner of ageing societies, will contribute to the G20 discussion.

Global challenges

The G20 makes efforts to tackle global challenges enumerated in the sustainable development goals (SDGs). In this area the discussion at previous summits will provide an important foundation for Osaka. The G20 has produced an annual update on its collective efforts in implementing the SDGs, and 2019’s update is designed to contribute to the high-level discussion at the UN in September. Japan has published the expanded version of the SDG Action Plan 2019 under the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This plan summarises Japan’s initiatives as the chair of G20 Osaka and commits particularly to disaster prevention, health and education.

Among those issues, a challenge for the G20 will continue to be to find a unanimous voice on climate change. The G20 will seek to find common ground for concerted action in Osaka. Japan recently concluded a long-term strategy under the Paris Agreement. It is no longer considered a cost to the economy for Japan to deal with the issue of climate change, but a strategy for future growth. Japan proclaims a “decarbonised society” as the ultimate goal and will realise a virtuous cycle of environmental protection and growth to achieve this. Business-led innovation and worldwide actions will be essential to this realisation.

Marine plastic litter has become an urgent issue. In the environmental ministerial statement, the G20 agreed that it recognises the increasing urgency to tackle the issue on a global scale, further building on existing efforts. Japan has already shared its know-how and technology on plastic recycling with other countries. G20 Osaka will be the opportunity to set forth effective international measures.

Infrastructure is a driver of economic prosperity. The G20 has highlighted the importance of quality infrastructure investment and endorsed the G20 principles for quality infrastructure investment, which include elements such as openness, transparency, economic efficiency and debt sustainability, at the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting. These principles are expected to be endorsed by the national leaders at the G20 Osaka summit. Japan will promote quality infrastructure investment in line with the principles, providing capacity building assistance to developing countries, including those in Africa.

Challenges facing Africa relate to all these issues and remain matters of important concern for the G20. Japan has been underscoring the importance of the international community supporting Africa’s economic development, and has held the Tokyo international conference on African development (Ticad) since 1993, inviting African leaders, international organisations, partner countries and NGOs. The G20 Osaka is intended to provide insight to pave the way to Ticad 7, which will be held in August 2019 in Yokohama.

Digital innovation

Finally, innovation is a cross-cutting and overarching theme for the Osaka summit. Digital innovation can support global efforts to overcome wide-ranging economic and social challenges, from ageing populations to climate change. Japan is playing an advanced role in this area and aims to create Society 5.0, where we can resolve various social challenges by incorporating the innovations of the fourth industrial revolution, such as the internet of things, big data, artificial intelligence and robotics, to make our future lives more sustainable and rich.

At the same time, innovation change that is too fast to respond to the resultant economic and social dislocation in a timely manner can be problematic. For the same reason efforts to create an appropriate system of governance tend to lag behind. The risk that digital development could lead to new divisions within and across society needs to be acknowledged. In view of these challenges, prime minister Abe, in his speech in Davos, expressed his determination to promote international debates on data governance. G20 Osaka could catalyse deeper and intensified discussion about this. Japan will continue to make efforts to create an appropriate system to accommodate the digital economy, and promote data free flow with trust.

The common thread running through all these discussions is our desire to give people greater confidence in their future. Japan very much hopes to work closely with SA as the only member of G20 from the African continent, a nonpermanent member of UN Security Council and the next chair of the AU, to make solid contributions to this end at G20 Osaka. We look forward to bringing this result to Ticad 7 to develop the discussion for the people of Africa.

• Maruyama is Japan's ambassador to SA.