A Sherpa is a personal representative of the leader of a member country at an international Summit meeting such as the G8, G20 or the Nuclear Security Summit. The term is derived from the Nepalese Sherpa people, who serve as guides for mountaineers in the Himalayas.
The Sherpa engages in planning, negotiation and implementation tasks through the Summit. They coordinate the agenda, seek consensus at the highest political levels, and participate in a series of pre-Summit consultations to help negotiate their leaders’ positions. Sherpas are career diplomats or senior government officials appointed by the leaders of their countries. There is only one Sherpa per Summit for each member country; he/she is assisted by several sous Sherpas.
India’s Sherpa at the G20 Summit, 2016, is NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya. He was appointed Sherpa for the G20 Summit in 2015, before which Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu represented India in the same position. During the previous UPA government, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the erstwhile Planning Commission, used to be the Sherpa.
The Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, is the Finance Deputy, and the Joint Secretary, Multilateral Relations, Department of Economic Affairs and Joint Secretary, Multilateral Economic Relations, Ministry of External Affairs, represent India as sous Sherpa at the G20 Summit.
Sherpas meet much before the start of the Summit to iron out differences on various issues. For the 2016 G20 Summit, the first meeting of Sherpas was held in January 2016, followed by a meeting each in April and June.
At the G20 Summit, work progresses through broadly two channels: the Finance Track and Sherpas’ Track. Towards the end of the process, the Sherpas, along with the Finance Track representatives, prepare the Leaders’ “Declaration” or “Communique”, which is the final outcome of the G20 Summit.
The Sherpas’ Track involves technical and policy analyses by working groups comprising officials from each member country and international organisations. It focuses on development-oriented issues such as agriculture, fighting corruption, employment, etc. Energy, climate change finance, investment in infrastructure, and trade were some of the issues discussed by the Sherpas’ Track in 2016 G20 Summit.
The Finance Track is composed of all Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors of G20 members, who also meet regularly during the year to analyse global economic problems and to take coordinated actions towards their resolution.