World leaders gear up for ‘most important G7 in history’

Officials gather in Britain for crucial summit from June 11-13

CARBIS BAY, CORNWALL - JUNE 03: Holiday makers from the midlands play on the beach in front of the Carbis Bay Hotel, host venue for the G7 Summit conferences, on June 03, 2021 in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. On June 11, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will host the Group of Seven leaders at a three-day summit in Cornwall, as the wealthiest nations look to chart a course for recovery from the global pandemic.  (Photo by Hugh Hastings/Getty Images)
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G7 leaders face three busy days of talks when they gather in Britain next weekend for their first in-person summit since the start of the pandemic.

Leaders of wealthy countries face widespread calls to distribute Covid-19 vaccines around the world and to set ambitious targets on climate change in the run-up to November's Cop26 summit in Glasgow.

“Many in the global health world are seeing this as the most important G7 in its entire history,” said Robert Yates, the head of Chatham House’s global health programme, at an event hosted by the think tank this week.

“There really is the potential for G7 leaders to do something very dramatic and appear as superheroes to save the world.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to use the June 11-13 summit in Cornwall, England, as a chance to show British leadership in the wake of Brexit.

As well as the G7 nations – the UK, US, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and Japan – the talks will be attended by the EU and guest nations Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa.

Some of the proposals on trade and global finance would require G20 approval to become reality, but experts say the summit between like-minded democracies can provide momentum on global issues.

“What the G7 has got a lot of is power and money and resources,” Mr Yates said. “Because it’s a smaller club, they have got a greater ability to come to a consensus and get on with it.”

CARBIS BAY, CORNWALL - JUNE 03: Police officers patrol on the beach in front of the Carbis Bay Hotel, host venue for the G7 Summit conferences, on June 03, 2021 in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. On June 11, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will host the Group of Seven leaders at a three-day summit in Cornwall, as the wealthiest nations look to chart a course for recovery from the global pandemic.  (Photo by Hugh Hastings/Getty Images)
Police officers patrol on the beach in front of the G7 venue. Getty Images 

Solidarity: Biden looks to mend ties

US President Joe Biden is on his first foreign trip after taking office with a vow to mend transatlantic ties after four tumultuous years of Donald Trump.

Before the G7 begins, Mr Biden will hold bilateral talks with Mr Johnson on Thursday to “affirm the enduring strength of the special relationship”.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is attending his first G7 meeting, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel is on her last.

Renata Dwan, deputy director of Chatham House, said all G7 leaders had an interest in the summit being productive.

“The UK wants a success. Boris Johnson wants a success. The US wants to say the US is back on the multilateral stage,” she said.

“So, for a whole set of reasons … everyone has an interest in making it look like a success.”

She said the desire for solidarity could mean a “massaging of difficult issues” such as the recent Israel-Palestine crisis.

“The Middle East is never an issue on which it’s easy for unity,” she said. “Frankly, there’s no new initiative on the agenda for Israel-Palestine in the G7.”

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the administration's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building's South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 2, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
Joe Biden is making his first foreign trip since becoming US President. Reuters 

Vaccines: G7 under pressure to share doses

While rich countries such as the UK and US forged ahead with successful vaccination programmes against Covid-19, access to the shots is limited for much of the developing world.

The World Health Organisation say people in low-income countries have received fewer than one per cent of the 700 million doses administered worldwide.

The leaders of international bodies including the WHO and World Bank this week issued a call for G7 leaders to donate more vaccine doses and provide technical expertise to expand vaccine production.

There are also calls to suspend intellectual property rights on vaccines, an idea supported by the US but opposed by Germany.

Echoing WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Mr Yates said rich countries should be donating vaccines instead of giving them to children at home.

He warned G7 leaders not to focus excessively on future pandemic preparations instead of ending the current crisis.

“In terms of what they ought to be talking about, it’s ending this current pandemic as quickly as possible for all our benefits,” he said.

“The big message for leaders, economists and heads of government is they need to spend more money on health.”

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds up his sleeve after receiving his second dose of the AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine from James Black, at the Francis Crick Institute in London, Britain June 3, 2021. Matt Dunham/Pool via REUTERS
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who received his second dose on June 3, is among the leaders facing calls to share vaccines. Reuters 

Climate change: Britain eyes ambitious targets

The UK is hoping to use its twin presidency of the G7 and Cop26 to drive ambitious global action on climate change.

Britain wants countries to come forward with new targets to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Tim Benton, head of Chatham House’s environment programme, said he expected talks on how to promote greater ambition from the G7 and guests, including Australia.

“They key thing is for this to be trumpeting the fact that Cop is the big moment,” he said.

Ms Dwan said she was watching for an agreement on ending international financial support on coal production.

A summit of G7 environment ministers last month ended with a commitment to "rapidly scale up technologies and policies" to phase out coal.

Meanwhile, G7 health ministers this week discussed how better monitoring of animal and environmental health could help avert the danger of a future pandemic.

Experts say that protecting wildlife and biodiversity can reduce the threat of dangerous new diseases emerging from the animal world.

FILE PHOTO: Cooling towers are pictured at a coal-based power station owned by state power utility Eskom in Duhva, South Africa, February 18, 2020.  Picture taken February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo
G7 environment ministers want to move past coal-fired power stations. Reuters

Finance: Global tax deal in sight

G7 finance ministers were meeting on Friday and Saturday and aiming for a deal on global taxation.

Washington supports a global minimum corporate tax rate that would prevent companies such as tech giants from manipulating the system.

It would also bring in much-needed government revenue after the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

However, an expert told The National this week that even if G7 leaders signed off an agreement, significant hurdles would still be in place.

“They would all have to put it into legislation in Japan and Canada and the US and UK and so on, so that’s going to be a long process with lots of nuances involved,” said Patrick Holden of the University of Plymouth in England.

The minimum tax rate is one of two pillars in efforts at global finance reforms, along with a “digital tax” that would allow countries to bill multinationals with headquarters overseas.

Britain wants such firms to pay taxes that reflect where they make their sales, not where they have their headquarters or book their profits.

But the US wants an end to the digital services taxes levied by Britain, France and Italy, which it views as unfairly targeting American tech giants.

Facebook logo displayed on a mobile phone in front of Facebook EMEA headquarters on Grand Canal Square in Dublin Docklands.
On Friday, 29 January, 2021, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Global tax reform would force the Irish government to make difficult trade-offs as its high concentration of corporate tax receipts from a few key multinationals, such as Facebook, make it vulnerable to relocation decisions. Getty Images

Security: Warning over hostility with China

G7 foreign ministers held three days of talks on security and foreign policy last month during which they discussed Iran, Syria and Libya among other issues.

Ministers said they were committed to ensuring that Iran would never develop a nuclear weapon and welcomed talks on the matter taking place in Vienna.

While the UK emphasised the G7’s role as a club of democracies, experts said leaders would not necessarily put up a united front against China.

“The question is – is the G7 an anti-China tool, is the G7 a China containment initiative?” Ms Dwan said.

“The G7 are not necessarily united in their approach to China and in how to respond to China. The tone on Russia, for example, is much more clear.”

Mr Yates warned that a confrontational attitude to China could affect the world’s access to Chinese-made vaccines, which are going towards the global Covax scheme.

“In the short and medium term, we really do need the collaboration of the Chinese in producing vaccines,” he said.

Any confrontational approach with the Chinese was to be avoided "at all costs", he said.