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  • John McDonnell

The G7 – a summit of underachievement

Prime Ministers of Australia, Scott Morrison, and the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, at Cornwall, UK

It was too optimistic to expect that the G7 summit in Cornwall would achieve very much. It was enough that it was meeting for the first time in two years, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There was an added pay-off in the fact that the meeting was a rejection of Trump’s isolation in favour of multilateralism.

This being said, there were still strong differences between the European members of the G7 and the anglophone members. The anglophones were preoccupied with the growing assertiveness of China and its coercive trade practices. The Europeans seemed overly focused on the Northern Ireland trade border and the prospect that the United Kingdom might relax the processes for goods moving between the UK and Northern Ireland.

Despite impassioned pleas from Scott Morrison, the Carbis Bay communique was relatively restrained in its condemnation of China. It called for condemnation of human rights abuses in China and demanded a further inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 virus, but that was it. This reflected differences of opinion among participants about how to manage a difficult situation. The US and Canadians would have liked stronger language. The Europeans favoured a less hawkish approach. Japan was somewhere in the middle.

To put this in context, China is Germany’s biggest export market outside of Europe and it has been a big destination for German investment for many years. Germany was one of the colonial powers during China's century of humiliation but their continuing presence has been welcomed by China - unlike the French, Americans and British.

On the issue of vaccines, the US, Britain, Japan and Australia were all prepared to donate vaccines to poor countries. In addition, the US is prepared to waive its patent rights and transfer technology so that poor countries can produce their own vaccines without licences. The Europeans declined to donate any vaccine to poor countries and are opposed to the transfer of intellectual property.

The German head of state, Chancellor Merkel, made the point that Germany was already doing enough by exporting fifty per cent of its manufactured output of vaccine. This statement conveniently overlooked the fact that most of the exports are being sold to other European countries at full price. France and Italy legitimately claimed that they needed all their vaccine for their own populations because they did not have the virus under control.

All up, the G7 countries have agreed to provide poor countries with an additional 1 billion doses of vaccine. Since the WHO has decided that it needs an additional 11 billion doses to vaccinate the whole world, this is a drop in the bucket.

The G7 decided to adopt a target of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and halving emissions by 2030 in order to hold global temperature increases to less than 1.5 degrees. There is a misapprehension that Australia - through its participation as an observer - is bound by this commitment, but the prime minister has made it clear that Australia has taken an independent position.

As far as Scott Morrison’s initiative to reinforce multilateral institutions is concerned, he had moderate success in garnering international support. The final communique reads:

“Embrace our values as an enduring foundation for success in an ever changing world. We will harness the power of democracy, freedom, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights to answer the biggest questions and overcome the greatest challenges.”


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