Global Gateway Forum, 2023: A Brief Assessment

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“Global Gateway is about giving choices to countries – better choices. Because for many countries around the world, investment options are not only limited, but they all come with a very high price. That is why Global Gateway investments work: they are demand-driven and they are a win-win for all partners involved.”

—European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

In 2021, the European Commission launched the “Global Gateway” initiative to foster global investment in developing countries and emerging markets. This October the inaugural Global Gateway Forum, themed “Stronger Together through Sustainable Investment,” aimed at taking stock of developments with partners, providing motivation, and strengthening cooperation and exchange of ideas for new projects was held in Brussels on 25 and 26 October 2023. The forum brought together over 40 high-level Government representatives, financial institutions and business representatives from private sector, civil society, leading thinkers, financing institutions, and international organizations in the invitation only event.

The gathering showcased the EU’s worldwide commitment to transparent investments in connectivity, healthcare, education, and research; and pledged new investments as well as announced new projects with developing countries across the developing world. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina represented Bangladesh on the forum and gained applause at the global stage, in recognition of Bangladesh’s remarkable growth and success in recent years, on top of, for her emphatic and passionate speech.

What Is Global Gateway?

The Global Gateway initiative is a European Commission’s revolutionary project that could fundamentally change the EU’s development and FDI landscape. The concept of “Global Gateway” was introduced by EC President Ursula von der Leyen in her State of the Union address in 2021. It was described as the EU’s new flagship plan to invest in infrastructure projects worldwide in order to offset the impact of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The main goal of the EU’s Global Gateway is to improve connection between Europe and the rest of the globe through a variety of means. This plan includes a number of large-scale initiatives, such as investments in digital connections, infrastructure, the energy industry, and sustainable development in non-EU nations. The goal is to facilitate trade, promote economic growth, and strengthen diplomatic ties with key partners. Through this approach, the European Union seeks to establish itself as a prominent participant in the global development framework and promote its principles and objectives globally.

Challenges with inadequate infrastructure, damage to the environment, and limited access to healthcare and education are global concerns that transcend national boundaries. In light of this, the EU has developed the Global Gateway plan, which links countries and regions by promoting public and private investment in a network of modern telecommunications, renewable energy, education, transportation, supply chains and research; with an emphasis on sustainable development and on European values, such as good governance, transparency and equal partnership.

With the Global Gateway, the EU charts a different course than BRI in the area of global connectivity. It represents a significant step for the EU as it tries to assert its presence on the global stage that could reshape the future of European soft power as well as FDI and trade diplomacy. Since the strategy was set up as a counter agenda to compete with Chinese global infrastructure investments under BRI, the EU attempted to incorporate a de-risking agendas in its initiative, differentiating their initiative from the infamous Chinese debt trap of their BRI projects.

Comparison with the Belt and Road Initiative

Every discussion on the Global Gateway initiative simultaneously brings the comparison with the BRI projects, because of its stated competition with the Chinese initiative. While improving connection is the common objective of both projects, their fundamental ideas and strategies diverge greatly. The Gateway initiative promises to channel excellent investments without endangering countries’ sovereignty and seeks to provide an alternative to Beijing’s global BRI investment scheme. Through coordinating its effort with best practices across the world, the EU hopes to set itself apart as a trustworthy and accountable partner in international development.

While the BRI prioritizes building physical infrastructure, often with a Chinese-centric approach of unaccountability, Global Gateway places a strong emphasis on sustainability, openness, and adherence to strict social and environmental norms. China’s plan is more concentrated on infrastructure and transportation than the Gateway scheme; which emphasizes on promoting green and sustainable projects in areas such as energy, medicine, and education. The Global Gateway initiative aims to increase EU trade and investments worldwide by allocating up to €300 billion to fund projects that include transportation corridors, green energy, and essential raw materials. The BRI has a budget of $1 trillion, triple the budget of the EU’s plan. As of July 2023, Global Gateway includes 87 major projects, worth some €66 billion with a reach of about 60 partners for its Global Gateway scheme, whereas China has over 150 partners.

Global Gateway Forum Meeting 2023

The Global Gateway Forum 2023 aimed to convene high-level executives to discuss matters of international infrastructure investment, encompassing the obstacles encountered by both public and private fields, ideal approaches, and the knowledge learned. The subjects of green energy transition and green hydrogen, education and research, transportation corridors, vital raw resources, manufacture of health products, and digital infrastructure were the primary areas of attention. Among the key outcomes of the gathering were:

  • €500 million for the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) in Vietnam, to foster the renewable energy transition in the country.
  • €400 million to foster renewable energy in Bangladesh under the partnership for Green Energy Transition.
  • €246 million package in support of a greener and more sustainable future for Cabo Verde.
  • €146 million loan to the construction of the Kakono hydropower plant in Tanzania, contributing significantly to climate change adaptation.
  • €60 million grant for the Green Economy Programme with the Philippines, to assist the country in transitioning towards a sustainable economy.
  • €20.4 million grant for the Green and Blue Pact in Comoros to boost the country’s environmental and food resilience.
  • €13.7 million grants to promote sustainable food systems and access to quality and affordable food and €10 million to promote the blue economy in Mauritania.
  • Agreements on critical raw materials with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.
  • Agreements on green hydrogen with Namibia backed by €1 billion.
  • €12 million grant to rehabilitate and modernize two key sections of railway lines in the Republic of Moldova.
  • €16 million blending grant to improve the road safety in Georgia along Georgia’s East- West highway.
  • €10 million grant to improve education infrastructure in Armenia.
  • €30 million was granted for the Republic of Tajikistan to boost education.

Bangladesh’s Participation

While joining the G20 summit, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina received an invitation to the forum from the president of the European Commission. She made optimum use of the opportunity to represent Bangladesh on the global stage and garner praise for the nation for its impressive recent growth. She had a number of meetings with the leaders of European countries on the sidelines.  With her most engaging address, she emerged as the “real icon” of the event, attracting the full attention of the state and governmental heads of state attending the forum. Focusing on the struggle within the country during the early years of independence, she urged the world leaders to work for peace. She spoke passionately about the achievements of the country and her emotional words ended with a heartfelt plea to world leaders to work for sustainable development, the problems of developing worlds and the struggle of poor people. She also spoke passionately about Bangladesh’s achievements, how the country has outperformed the economies like the US, the UK and the European Union in terms of GDP growth in recent years, in face of dire challenges.  Bangladesh also secured a €400 million investment in the county’s renewable energy sector in the forum.

The Global Gateway Forum was an invitation-only, closed-door gathering that reflected the private sector-driven aid framework to gain sustainable achievement. The invitee list was dominated by politicians and business leaders, rather than having any representation from civil society and trade unions for being considered as a meaningful space to talk about sustainable development. In the event, the EC promoted its strategy of using development funds to attract private investment in infrastructure development in the Global South, which has raised warnings among skeptics against the initiative, fearing that it might turn into colonialism 2.0.

The Forum has brought forth numerous pledges and agreements, signaling the EU’s intention to play a prominent role in the global development framework. However, it is essential to critically assess the initiative’s potential impact on sovereignty, environmental concerns, and human rights, as some of the investments may raise questions about their long-term sustainability and implications. The success of the Global Gateway will ultimately depend on how well it balances economic interests with the genuine development needs of partner countries.

– Wahid Uzzaman Sifat is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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