G7 leaders agree on China, COVID-19 vaccines and taxing corporations at summit – National
Leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations on Sunday pledged more than 1 billion coronavirus vaccine doses to poorer nations, vowed to help developing countries grow their economies while fighting climate change and agreed to challenge China’s “non-market economic practices” and call out Beijing for rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
Speaking at the end of a G-7 leaders’ summit in southwest England, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the “fantastic degree of harmony” among the reenergized group, which met in person for the first time in two years.
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The leaders wanted to show that international cooperation is back after the upheavals caused by the pandemic and the unpredictability of former U.S. President Donald Trump. And they wanted to convey that the club of wealthy democracies — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — is a better friend to poorer nations than authoritarian rivals such as China.
Johnson said the G-7 would demonstrate the value of democracy and human rights to the rest of the world and help “the world’s poorest countries to develop themselves in a way that is clean and green and sustainable.”
“It’s not good enough for us to just rest on our laurels and talk about how important those values are,” he told reporters after the 3-day meeting on the Cornwall coast. “And this isn’t about imposing our values on the rest of the world. What we as the G-7 need to do is demonstrate the benefits of democracy and freedom and human rights to the rest of the world.”
But health and environmental campaigners were distinctly unimpressed by the details in the leaders’ final meeting communique.
“This G-7 summit will live on in infamy,” said Max Lawson, the head of inequality policy at the international aid group Oxfam. “Faced with the biggest health emergency in a century and a climate catastrophe that is destroying our planet, they have completely failed to meet the challenges of our times.”
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Despite Johnson’s call to “vaccinate the world” by the end of 2022 the promise of 1 billion doses for vaccine-hungry countries — coming both directly and through the international COVAX program — falls far short of the 11 billion doses the World Health Organization said is needed to vaccinate at least 70% of the world’s population and truly end the pandemic.
Half of the billion dose pledge is coming from the United States and 100 million from Britain.
The G-7 also backed a minimum tax of at least 15 per cent on large multinational companies to stop corporations from using tax havens to avoid taxes.
The minimum rate was championed by the United States and dovetails with the aim of President Joe Biden to focus the summit on ways the democracies can support a fairer global economy by working together.
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Biden also wanted to persuade fellow democratic leaders to present a more unified front to compete economically with Beijing and strongly call out China’s “nonmarket policies and human rights abuses.”
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In the group’s communique published Sunday, the group said: “With regard to China, and competition in the global economy, we will continue to consult on collective approaches to challenging non-market policies and practices which undermine the fair and transparent operation of the global economy.”
The leaders also said they will promote their values by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Xinjiang, where Beijing is accused of committing serious human rights abuses against the Uyghur minority, and in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong.
Johnson, the summit’s host, wanted the three-day meeting to fly the flag for a “Global Britain,” his government’s push to give the midsized country outsized global influence.
Yet Brexit cast a shadow over that goal during the summit on the coast of southwest England. European Union leaders and U.S. President Joe Biden voiced concerns about problems with new U.K.-EU trade rules that have heightened tensions in Northern Ireland.
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But overall, the mood was positive: The leaders smiled for the cameras on the beach at cliff-fringed Carbis Bay, a village and resort that became a traffic-clogged fortress for the meeting. The last G-7 summit was in France in 2019, with last year’s event in the United States scuttled by the pandemic.
The leaders mingled with Queen Elizabeth II at a royal reception on their first evening and were served steak and lobster at a beach barbecue after watching an aeronautic display by the Royal Air Force Red Arrows on their second.
America’s allies were visibly relieved to have the U.S. back as an engaged international player after the “America First” policy of the Trump administration.
“The United States is back, and democracies of the world are standing together,” Biden said as he arrived in the U.K. on the first foreign trip of his 5-month-old presidency. After the G-7 summit, the president will have tea with the queen on Sunday, attend a NATO summit in Brussels on Monday and hold talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.
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At the G-7, Johnson described Biden as a “breath of fresh air.” French President Emmanuel Macron, after speaking one-to-one with Biden, said, “It’s great to have a U.S. president part of the club and very willing to cooperate.”
The re-energized G-7 made ambitious declarations during their meetings about girls’ education, preventing future pandemics and financing greener infrastructure globally
On climate change, the “Build Back Better for the World” plan promises to offer financing for infrastructure — “from railways in Africa to wind farms in Asia” — to help speed up the global shift to renewable energy. The plan is a response to China’s “belt and road” initiative, which has increased Beijing’s worldwide influence.
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All G-7 countries have pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but many environmentalists say that will be too little, too late.
Naturalist David Attenborough addressed the leaders by video Sunday, warning that humanity is “on the verge of destabilizing the entire planet.”
“If that is so, then the decisions we make this decade — in particular the decisions made by the most economically advanced nations — are the most important in human history,” the veteran documentary filmmaker said.
Large crowds of surfers and kayakers took to the sea in a mass protest Saturday to urge better protections for the world’s oceans, while thousands beat drums as they marched outside the summit’s media center in Falmouth.
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“G-7 is all greenwashing,” the protesters sang. “We’re drowning in promises, now’s the time to act.”
The communique’s language on China was more muted than the United States had sought.
White House officials also said Biden wanted the G-7 leaders to speak in a single voice against the forced labor practices targeting China’s Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minoritie. Canada, Britain and France largely endorsed Biden’s position on China, while Germany, Italy and the European Union showed more hesitancy, according to two senior Biden administration officials.
Lawless, Kirka and Hui reported from Falmouth, England.
© 2021 The Canadian Press