The group’s relevance was tested again
The first in-person summit of the Group of Seven (G7) since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic underlined the return to conventional diplomacy after the turmoil of the Donald Trump years, with the United States under Joe Biden reasserting its leadership of global governance. But even as leaders from the United States, Germany, France, Britain, Japan, Canada, and Italy exchanged fist- and elbow-bumps at the picturesque summer resort of Carbis Bay in Wales, the old questions of whether meets by this 46-year-old informal grouping of the world’s wealthiest democracies can meaningfully address the world’s crises remained as relevant as ever. Unlike the circus-like controversies that accompanied Donald Trump’s confrontational leadership with other members over trade deficits and contributions to the 72-year North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the news cycle was dominated by sober debate over vaccine access for poorer countries, the global minimum tax, and the G7 counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative and climate change. It is fair to say that the action fell far short of the rhetoric.
This action deficit is best exemplified by the key decisions concerning the Covid-19 pandemic. Specifically rejecting the “vaccine nationalism” that divided the world in 2020, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that the G7 had demonstrated its democratic values by pledging to supply one billion Covid-19 vaccine doses to Covax, the global distribution scheme led by the World Health Organization, Gavi, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Mr Johnson’s extravagant prose could not, however, mask the fact that this is a truly paltry contribution when set against the actual requirement.
That apart, the G7 also skirted around the thorny question raised by South Africa at the WTO and endorsed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to waive the intellectual property rights ban on manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines. On the minimum global tax, which has been in the works for some years, the consensus around a 15 per cent rate masked the many hurdles ahead, principally on how it is to be implemented. For the European Union alone, gaining a consensus from members Hungary and Ireland to give up their competitive tax regimes remains a challenge, as do demands for jurisdictions such as India to scrap its digital tax on foreign majors. In the US, resistance from Republican law-makers is a given. As for climate change, the G7’s reluctance to underwrite the global warming that it has caused remains the stumbling block for emerging economies. Joe Biden’s Build Back Better World (B3W) infrastructure initiative for poorer countries sounds great but smacks of an updated version of the old aid-industry complex.
Finally, the grouping itself has long been open to question, given that it accounts for just half of global GDP from 70 per cent when it began, and omits the world’s second-largest economy and rising superpower, China. This much is clear from the wordage reserved for China in the final communique that touched on trade and human rights. It is also clear that a newer grouping such as the G20, which includes China, Russia, and rising economies such as India, has demonstrated the ability of addressing governance questions of the day effectively as it did during the global financial crisis. The fact that the G7 had outreach programmes to include India, South Africa, and South Korea reflects an understanding of these shortcomings but without addressing them in a meaningful way.