Jayati Ghosh unpicks the G7 summit in England and finds an anachronistic coalition failing to meet global responsibilities.
Published on Social Europe, June 21, 2021
What exactly does the G7 want?
On the surface that should be evident: the informal political forum, consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, clearly sees itself as the unofficial leader of the world. According to the website of the UK presidency of the G7, it is ‘the only forum where the world’s most influential and open societies and advanced economies are brought together for close-knit discussion’.
And there is no dearth of self-congratulation in this regard. The website proudly declares:
In past years the G7 has taken action to strengthen the global economy and combat tax evasion, save 27 million lives from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and supported the education of millions of children in the poorest countries. In 2015 its members led the way in helping secure the historic Paris Climate Agreement to limit global emissions.
In terms of policy priorities, its goals apparently are: ‘leading the global recovery from coronavirus while strengthening our resilience against future pandemics; promoting our future prosperity by championing free and fair trade; tackling climate change and preserving the planet’s biodiversity, [and] championing our share values’ of pluralism and representative government.
Obviously, there is much to question here—beginning with the anachronistic nature of this grouping as self-proclaimed leader of a much more complicated and multipolar world, with many more important players. The fact that the group continues to meet, even though the G20 was formed in 1999 to include Russia, China and several other large developing countries, is a clear sign that the club of rich countries has specific interests it wishes to press.
Yet, whatever we may think of the grandiose claims of the G7 and its inherent lack of global legitimacy, there is no doubt that it is hugely influential and must be taken seriously. These countries still do play a crucial role in determining the nature and direction of global politics and the international economy.
This is why the Cornwall summit of the G7 earlier this month was more than just disappointing. It was alarming even, given the clearly misplaced priorities which appear to have taken hold of these leaders.
The world is directly facing multiple crises: the pandemic, which continues to rage in successive waves across much of the globe; the economic devastation which Covid-19 has wrought; the looming external-debt concerns, which are increasing likely to explodein the near future, and the climate changes, already upon us, requiring major investments in mitigation and adaptation. All require urgent attention and a major change in policy orientation. Yet despite the usual high-sounding verbiage of the official communiqué, there was no real sense of urgency, since nothing significant was decided on any of these issues.
Instead, much of the time at the summit was apparently devoted to bashing China and wondering how to contain the threat it poses to G7 supremacy. This is both foolish and contradictory, as these multiple crises cannot be resolved without global co-operation, and China must be a critical player in any such co-operation.
Ending the pandemic
Consider the goal of ending the pandemic. Individual G7 countries have already disgraced themselves by grabbing Covid-19 vaccines well beyond their own requirement—sometimes many multiples of their population. Now they announce that they will donate some (not even all!) of their surplus stocks to other countries, which they had deprived of access.
Yet even the promised total of one billion doses is pitifully short of what is needed. And there was clearly no common resolution to stop opposing the intellectual-property-rights waiver in the World Trade Organization or to push domestic pharmaceutical companies to share technology.
Meanwhile, China remains by far the largest producer of Covid-19 vaccines, and more than half the vaccines administered in the world so far are Chinese. China has providedmore than 350 million doses to other countries, in the form of aid in more than 80 countries and vaccine exports to more than 40.
Obviously, any global effort to ensure universal vaccination against Covid-19 has to include China. It also has to include Russia, which will export 250 million doses of Sputnik-V to around 30 countries this year. If the G7 countries persist in an approach which privileges the private profit of their pharmaceutical companies over the common good, the rest of the world will inevitably look elsewhere for support.
Similarly, the aim of global recovery and increased investment for ‘green’ purposes clearly requires international co-operation. Yet here, instead of taking effective measures to increase fiscal space in the developing world—such as some serious and meaningful debt relief—the only thing the G7 could offer was an almost embarrassing attempt to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative with its own (poorly funded) ‘Green’ Belt and Road plan to finance investments that would reduce carbon emissions.
Quite apart from the laughable inability even to think up a distinct name for this project, this carries no credibility at all, because the pre-existing target from the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen—that the developed countries provide $100 billion per year by 2020 to help poor countries support green growth—has not been met or even seriously assayed.
Once again, the focus is off: it seems more about countering China than really doing anything to help the rest of the world. As long as this continues, there is little hope that the much-needed international co-operation crucial to meeting humanity’s needs will come about—or even that the G7 will meet its own aim, of staying relevant.
This article is a joint publication by Social Europe and IPS-Journal
Jayati Ghosh taught economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi for 34 years, before joining the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in January 2021. She is executive secretary of International Development Economics Associates and a member of the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation.