G7 Summit: Flexing moments

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A billion donated jabs headlined the end of the three-day Group of Seven (G7) Summit, with the United States pledging half to be distributed to poorer nations like the Philippines, anxious to receive allocations that can bring up their respective immunization tallies.

The billion doses represent the largesse of wealthy countries in the West, and we who will receive them are all too thankful – even as the United Nations (UN) notes that this is still far too little to restore normalcy that has been taken away by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The world needs at least 11 billion doses, says the UN, to reach global herd immunity, and a billion doses is far too short, and would likely find its way to the arms of recipients too late to prevent more people from sinking deeper into poverty.

The person-to-person meeting of leaders of G7 countries (Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and United States) is a flexing moment for them telling the rest of the world that they are back in fighting form after suffering from major disruptions from four years ago.

We recall former US President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign joint communiqués in 2018 and 2019, an America First policy, the subsequent renegotiation of US tariff terms with some of G7’s European members leading to cracks in the alliance, the trade war on China, and the pandemic.

This year’s meeting took place in Carbis Bay in the British holiday region of Cornwall. And while photo ops still carry grim reminders of a current health crisis (people social distancing, elbow and fist bumps, and in open air with an abundance of sea and sand in the background), masks were down.

With most (if not all) of the leaders and key officials fully vaccinated, posed family photographs was another subtle boast of how G7 nations early enough were able to secure a substantial number of vaccines and mobilize immunizations for their population.

Relevance issue

The 2021 G7 Summit is a timely show to rescue its tattered image over the last few years, but establishing its relevance and importance have become increasingly difficult as new players, pandemic notwithstanding, are asserting their powers.

Established in the mid’-70s, the yearly G7 Summit brings together the heads of the member countries to agree on policies related to key global issues. For most part of its existence, its mettle alone to fire the engines of the global economy was undisputed.

These days, though, the G7 countries can no longer claim to dominate the world’s wealth. In particular, China has exhibited phenomenal capability to quickly catapult as the world’s second most powerful economy today. India and Brazil, likewise, have risen to become part of the 10 highest-ranking countries in the world in terms of nominal GDP.

Other countries also are nipping at the heels of G7 members’ economic clout, namely Australia, South Korea, and Russia. G7 countries now account for only a third of global GDP, down from over 60 percent when it first started almost half a century ago.

In fact, because of this, the Group of 20 (G20) was founded in 1999, although its inaugural leaders’ summit was only in 2008. During the following year’s summit, the founders announced that it would replace the G7 as the main economic council of wealthy nations.

G20 is composed of 19 countries – including China, Russia, and India – plus the European Union (EU), although not all are in the top of the list of the world’s nominal GDP ranking. Nevertheless, the wealth of the countries participating in the G20 adds up to a hefty 90 percent of gross wealth product (GWP).

Formal membership does not exclude other non-member countries from participating. A robust system is in place that allows developing countries or aspiring economic blocs like ASEAN and the African Union from participating.

The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization play important roles, too, all aiming to improve international cooperation of countries on economic policies. The G20 Summit also meets yearly, with the 2021 meeting upcoming on October 30 and 31.

Still, inclusiveness is being raised as an issue because more than 120 countries that are UN members are not part of the G20. Norway has also opined the arbitrary nature of G20 membership, citing itself as being a developed economy – but with no rights in the G20.

Differentiating G7 from G20

How do we differentiate the G7 from G20? Leaving behind the billion doses of vaccines donated (Canada has just pledged 100 million, and the balance should be forthcoming in the next few days), G7 leaders have raked up their attacks on prominent non-members, but nonetheless power economic engines in the global economy.

In particular, the G7 has demanded a halt to China’s “non-market economic practices,” an accusation of the country’s disregard and disrespect of international property rights in technological innovations owned by some G7 members.

G7 has also called for Russia to investigate and put to a stop what has been deemed as a coddling of cybercriminals, whose activities of late has exposed several prominent companies to ransomware attacks.

Add to these the rising prevalence of authoritarian regimes that clearly deviate from the democratic principles on which the G7 was premised. For sure, such are issues that would not be boldly written in a joint communiqué of a G20 summit.

G7 leaders may find a need to flex on such perceived threats to their economic ascendancy. After all, China may be guilty of forcing leading economies to give up their intellectual property rights. Yet, could it be too late to save the day?

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