G7 summit opens with pledge to rebuild world economies

Boris Johnson warns against repeat of mistakes after 2008 crisis

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson opened the G7 summit on Friday with a warning that countries must learn from their mistakes as they rebuild their economies after the pandemic.

Mr Johnson welcomed world leaders to the English coast as the summit got under way, with talks focusing on the economic outlook.

He told them it was vital not to "repeat the mistake of the last great crisis, the last great economic recession in 2008, when the recovery was not uniform across all parts of society".

"What risks being a lasting scar is that inequalities may be entrenched and we need to make sure that as we recover, we level up across our societies," he said.

Leaders including US President Joe Biden posed for a "family photo" on the beach at Carbis Bay, Cornwall, in a symbolic show of solidarity in their first in-person meeting since the start of the pandemic.

Both Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles also met the G7 leaders, with the Prince of Wales encouraging countries to "build back better" while also focusing on the fight against climate change.

On the sidelines, Mr Johnson discussed Iran and Libya in bilateral talks with G7 leaders to follow his discussions with Mr Biden on Thursday.

With Mr Biden on a mission to restore Washington’s global standing and Mr Johnson looking to project British leadership after Brexit, both used the eve of the summit to make pledges on vaccine donation before G7 talks on the subject began.

The three-day summit is expected to end with an agreement to share one billion vaccine doses around the world by the end of 2022.

Health campaigners including former UK prime minister Gordon Brown said the target did not go far enough.

"If the best G7 leaders can manage is to donate one billion vaccine doses, then this summit will have been a failure," said Anna Marriott, health policy manager at Oxfam.

The summit began with tension in the air after leaders of the EU and France voiced frustration with Britain due to a standoff over Northern Ireland, which threatens to overshadow the summit.

EU leaders say they will confront Mr Johnson on the subject, while French President Emmanuel Macron told London that “nothing was renegotiable” on the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol.

The five EU leaders at the meeting – representing France, Germany, Italy and two top EU institutions – held a private meeting before the welcome ceremony to co-ordinate strategy.

Mr Johnson sought to play down the controversy by insisting that the UK, EU and US were all in agreement on protecting the peace deal at the heart of the dispute.

Britain said the leaders would discuss sharing technology and strengthening free trade to restore economic prosperity.

They will endorse the agreement made by finance ministers last week to establish a global minimum corporation tax, a senior White House official said.

Washington said a plan was on the table to reallocate $100 billion from the International Monetary Fund's war chest to help countries that are struggling to cope with the pandemic.

Mr Johnson said leaders would talk about how to build greener and fairer economies and suggested that economies could be rebuilt in a "more gender-neutral and perhaps a more feminine way".

The UK on Friday announced it was pledging £430 million ($608m) of new development aid for the World Bank-backed Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

Leaders were to hear from a special Gender Equality Advisory Council, which is recommending targeted pandemic recovery measures that take into account the needs of women and girls.

Former BBC journalist and council chairwoman Sarah Sands was to speak remotely to the leaders gathered at the Carbis Bay Hotel.

“Women and girls have astonishing potential. We challenge the G7 to unleash it,” she said before her address.

In bilateral discussions, Mr Johnson discussed China and Iran with Mr Trudeau and thanked him for his leadership after Iran shot down a Ukrainian plane last year, with many on-board Canadian citizens and residents.

They said the summit would be a "pivotal moment" for G7 leaders to "make concrete progress on major world issues".

In separate talks, Mr Johnson and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi promised to support a lasting ceasefire in Libya to "provide the foundation for a long-term peaceful democratic transition".

Royal charm offensive

After the first day of talks, Britain mounted a diplomatic charm offensive by drafting in senior members of the royal family for an evening reception.

Queen Elizabeth II, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge all attended the event at the Eden Project tropical garden.

At dinner, leaders were served traditional Cornish food including local cheeses and fish caught off the nearby coast.

In a dinner address, Prince Charlies said the pandemic provided "a crystal clear example" of how the global community can tackle crises when it comes together.

He urged the assembled leaders to adopt the same multilateralism in tackling the vexing problem of climate change.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are doing it for the pandemic, so if you don’t mind me saying so, we must also do it for the planet," he said.

He cited his Sustainable Markets Initiative as a pathway for reconciling the interests of the planet and big finance by bringing together 300 global chief executives in a "coalition of the willing".

Earlier, the Duchess of Cambridge and US first lady Jill Biden visited an academy for young children in Cornwall.

Suga seeks support for Olympics

The summit is the first G7 meeting for Mr Biden, Mr Draghi and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and almost certainly the last for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Before leaving Tokyo, Mr Suga said he would seek support for his determination to hold a “safe and secure” Olympic Games beginning on July 23.

He said he would have “frank discussions” with G7 leaders on “regional issues” as well as Covid-19, climate change and the economy.

Japan wants the UK’s support in establishing a “free and open Indo-Pacific”, a region where Britain is looking to extend its influence after Brexit.

Vaccine diplomacy

The UK has invited four guests – South Africa, South Korea, India and Australia – who will be formally welcomed on Saturday.

South Africa says it will lobby in favour of an intellectual property waiver on vaccines in order to boost global production.

The US and France support the waiver, but Britain backs an EU counterproposal and Germany opposes the idea.

Rich nations are under pressure to share more doses with the world and redress a major imbalance in vaccination rates.

In terms of doses administered so far, the imbalance between the G7 and the planet's low-income countries, as defined by the World Bank, is 73 to one.

Mr Macron called for drugmakers to donate some of their doses directly to complement donations by governments.

“Donations of doses by states have to be supplemented by donations of doses by pharmaceutical companies,” he said.

Welcoming Mr Biden’s move to donate 500 million doses, he said the EU needed to have “at least the same level of ambition”.

Ms Merkel and Mr Trudeau put their names to an article on Thursday that called for the G7 to meet 55 per cent of the costs of the global ACT-A plan for treatments and vaccines.

G7 leaders “have a choice – fight the virus alone and potentially lose, or fight it together and win,” the article said.

Mr Biden emphasised the vaccine issue after meeting Mr Johnson on Thursday, calling it a “major focus” of the G7.

The US president said his agenda for the G7 included treating climate change as a security threat and investing in high-quality infrastructure and health care around the world.

He called for establishing new “norms of conduct” in cyberspace to deal with threats such as ransomware attacks.

Updated: June 14, 2021 10:57 AM

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