India’s Role in Multilateral Forums

by Neeta Baporikar - 20 May, 2024, 12:00 473 Views 0 Comment


In the last 5 years, there has been tremendous growth in the tendency to join bilateral agreements in the multipolar world. Recent examples of PTA (preferential trade agreements), FTA (Free trade agreements like India and Australia), and currency swap agreements like India- UAE etc. show countries moving towards bilateralism. The slow advancement of the multilateral trading system has led to a wave of preferential trade agreements (PTAs) in Latin America and the Caribbean resulting in a web of bilateral and plurilateral PTAs, with countries both within and outside the region. In this line, we will discuss the trends in the international multipolar order, the importance of multilateralism, India’s stand-in multilateral regimes and ways for promoting multilateralism for sustainable development and thereby India’s role in multilateral forums.

Basis for Discussion

Bilateralism and multilateralism are two types of foreign policy coordination among countries. Bilateralism is having a matching arrangement on each of the two sides, meaning that two countries cooperate with each other on specific issues or interests. Multilateralism is the process of organizing relations between groups of three or more states meaning that more than three countries cooperate with each other on general principles or goals. For example, the United States and Canada have a bilateral trade agreement called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This agreement is between the United States, Canada, and Mexico and covers trade and investment between the three countries. On the other hand, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is an example of a multilateral organisation that deals with the rules of trade between nations. It has 164 member countries and provides a forum for negotiating and monitoring trade agreements. In summary, bilateralism involves direct negotiations and agreements between two countries, while multilateralism entails engaging multiple nations through international organizations and forums.

Multilateralism: Way for Future World 

Multilateralism promotes a level playing field by ensuring that all countries, regardless of their size or economic power, have an equal say in the rules and regulations that govern global trade. For example, the WTO’s most-favoured-nation principle ensures that all members receive equal treatment in terms of tariffs and trade policies. In addition, the UN system provides a democratic system that gives voice to each smaller country for its own sustainable development. Multilateralism encourages cooperation between countries by promoting dialogue and negotiation. This can lead to the development of mutually beneficial agreements that promote sustainable development. For example, the Paris Agreement on climate change is a multilateral effort that involves 196 countries. This was negotiated through multilateralism and encourages countries to work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Multilateral institutions provide a platform for collective action on global issues such as poverty reduction, health, and environmental protection. For example, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for countries to work together to achieve sustainable development. Multilateral institutions promote transparency, accountability and ways for a peaceful world by providing a forum for civil society and other stakeholders to participate in decision-making processes. For example, the WTO allows non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to participate in its meetings and provides regular updates on its activities to the public. UNO, WHO, G-20, BIMSTEC etc., work for a more equitable world by bringing countries with different competence and different approaches together. Take the example of India’s stand against cyber-attack by using the G 20 forum and SCO shows how multilateral regimes are also important for human development. Multilateralism provides greater certainty and predictability for businesses and investors by establishing clear rules and regulations that govern global trade.

Context of Multilateralism                

Historically, India has been a strong advocate of multilateralism and is actively involved in various multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, World Trade Organization, and World Health Organization. India has played a leading role in promoting South-South cooperation through initiatives such as the India-Africa Forum Summit and the International Solar Alliance. India has been a vocal advocate for reforming the United Nations Security Council to make it more representative and reflective of current global realities. India has played a significant role in promoting regional multilateralism through initiatives such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). G-20 presidency reflects it is gaining importance in multilateral forums because India sees multilateral arrangements as a way for sustainable human development (Hall, 2016). It is important to acknowledge that multilateralism allows for greater cooperation and consensus building among multiple nations. Further, multilateralism can be particularly effective in addressing global issues such as climate change, health pandemics, and disarmament. Multilateral forums represent the interests of all their member countries. Some of the global issues addressed by multilateral forums and bodies include human development, health, peace, disarmament, finance, etc.

India’s Role in Multilateral Forums                

India has traditionally been a proponent of multilateralism, emphasizing the importance of collective global action to address transnational challenges. India is pursuing its interests at international forums such as the UN by mobilizing developing countries or the global south on platforms such as NAM, G-77, etc. India has been at the forefront of initiatives to address global challenges such as climate change, sustainable development, and counter-terrorism. It has also played a prominent role in advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with a focus on poverty eradication, healthcare, education, and gender empowerment. India has also been a vocal advocate for the reform of global institutions to make them more representative and inclusive, reflecting the changing global power dynamics (Chaturvedi, 2018). India has called for reforms in global governance institutions, such as the UN Security Council, to make them more inclusive and representative of the current global realities.

India has promoted a multipolar world order, where distributive power prevails among multiple centres and no single nation dominates global affairs.  Further, India is a vocal proponent of the concept of “sovereign equality” among nations, emphasizing the importance of mutual respect, non-interference in internal affairs, and the peaceful resolution of disputes. India’s commitment and approach is to find collective solutions and put substantial effort into ensuring that the G20 does not focus on specific issues like Ukraine. Instead, it aims to secure agreements on various significant matters, such as the modernization of the global tax regime and the reform of multilateral development banks (Hall, 2016). It revitalized the principles of multilateralism at the G-20 summit by convening the first-of-its-kind ‘Voice of the Global South Summit,’ amplifying the voice of the Global South, championing inclusive development, and fighting for the empowerment of women. Hence, the New Delhi Declaration passed during the G-20 summit underscored India’s commitment to climate justice and equity, urging substantial financial and technological support from the Global North.


India’s role in rebalancing multilateralism is significant and holds immense potential. By advocating for reform, leading by example, building strategic partnerships, and addressing its own internal challenges, India can contribute to a more equitable and inclusive global governance system that truly reflects the Indian ethos of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.’


Chaturvedi, S. (2018). India’s Approach to Multilateralism and Evolving Global Order. Indian Foreign Affairs Journal13(2), 128-135.

Hall, I. (2016). Multialignment and Indian foreign policy under Narendra Modi. The Round Table105(3), 271-286.

Neeta Baporikar
Author is a Research Focused Professor, Namibia University of Science and Technology, Namibia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *