G7 leaders on Friday opened their first in-person talks in nearly two years, with an expected pledge to donate a billion Covid-19 vaccine doses to poor countries on the agenda in a show of Western democratic cohesion.
The club of leading economies – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and United States – says a joint approach is the world’s best chance for recovering from the global health crisis, and tackling climate change.
Welcomed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to the beachside summit venue in Carbis Bay, southwest England, the leaders posed for a family photo before opening their first session of talks on “building back better” after the pandemic.
Johnson opened the G7 summit with a message for the world leaders to “learn lessons” from the pandemic and warned that it was vital not to repeat mistakes of the “the last big economic recession of 2008”.
The meeting presented a “huge opportunity” for global pandemic recovery, Johnson told his fellow leaders in opening remarks, as they sat socially distanced and without masks at a round-table. The focus was on, he said, “building back greener, building back fairer and building back more equal”.
The UK announced it would provide £430mn ($606mn) to support the worst affected by being out of school, most of them girls, and called on its G7 allies to follow suit. The money will go to the Global Partnership for Education.
US president points to multilateralism
US President Joe Biden ditched Donald Trump’s isolationist stance to ram home a message of resolve by the G7 and NATO against both Beijing and Moscow, as he heads into his first sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week.
“I’m looking forward to reinforcing our commitment to multilateralism and working with our allies and partners to build a more fair and inclusive global economy,” Biden tweeted from the G7 in Cornwall.
Campaigners say the G7’s vaccine donations pledge for this year and next – including 500 million US doses – is far too little, too late to end a pandemic that has claimed over 3.7 million lives worldwide.
“If the best G7 leaders can manage is to donate one billion vaccine doses then this summit will have been a failure,” Oxfam said, insisting the world needs 11 billion doses.
But the G7 wants to rise to competing “vaccine diplomacy” efforts launched by China and Russia, with the Biden administration stressing it expects nothing in return for its donated jabs.
The leaders are also expected to outline more help for developing nations to build up infrastructure, as a counterpoint to the debt-fuelled spending by China in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The initiative “will embrace a high standards, transparent, climate friendly, non-corrupt mechanism” for infrastructure investment in the developing world, a senior US official said.
Underpinning the US-led diplomatic revival, Biden and Johnson on Thursday adopted a new “Atlantic Charter”, modelled on the pact signed by their World War II predecessors to help build a new world order.
Johnson dislikes the decades-old phrase “special relationship”, arguing it makes Britain look subservient to Washington, telling the BBC that it should be viewed as “indestructible”.
He also played down any differences with Biden over the restive British province of Northern Ireland, ahead of showdown talks between Johnson and EU chiefs on Saturday to tackle deep fissures opened up by Brexit.
British foreign secretary Dominic Raab hit back on Friday after French President Emmanuel Macron launched a broadside over the UK back-pedalling regarding post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland.
Raab told Sky News “change must come from the European Commission side” and that “we are not negotiating or haggling the integrity of the UK”.
Johnson will hope to lighten the mood at a beach barbecue on Saturday, joined by his new wife Carrie and other G7 spouses, with a sea shanty band and toasted marshmallows around fire pits.
That will follow a reception for the G7 leaders on Friday evening hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Cornwall’s Eden Project.