G7 holds first round of meetings since start of pandemic

The opening day was marked by the coronavirus and climate change. In addition, Joe Biden used his first summit to strengthen ties with his partners and send a message to China and Russia

REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE  -   British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a thumbs up as U.S. President Joe Biden looks on during their meeting ahead of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain, June 10, 2021

The G7 leaders held their first meeting on Friday in Cornwall, UK. The main topics of the meeting were the economy, climate change and, of course, the AIDS-19 pandemic. This virus has prevented the politicians from meeting face-to-face until now, more than a year after the confinements began. "I can't say how much of a difference it makes," said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, welcoming the other world representatives in person.

He added that "we need to learn from the pandemic, to make sure that we don't repeat some of the mistakes that we have certainly made over the last 18 months". The UK has been one of the countries most affected by the coronavirus in the world, with almost 130,000 deaths. In addition, its months-long strict containment has caused the biggest downturn in the economy since modern records began. Nevertheless, Johnson is optimistic that there is potential to "recover very strongly from COVID".

What the British leader did express concern about was the economic inequality that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. "What is in danger of becoming a lasting scar is that inequalities become entrenched," Johnson warned. "We have to make sure that the recovery raises standards for everyone in our societies," he added. The Prime Minister recalled the great economic crisis of 2008, and how "the recovery was not uniform across all sectors of society". For this reason, and with the aim of alleviating the unequal global distribution of vaccines, the G7 has pledged to donate one billion doses this year.

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PHOTO/AFP -  France's President Emmanuel Macron, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi, European Council President Charles Michel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for a family photo as they attend an EU coordination meeting at the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain, June 11, 2021.

"We must show that we are not only thinking of ourselves, but also of those who do not yet have the opportunity to be vaccinated, especially in African countries," said Angela Merkel. Germany is one of the world's largest contributors to COVAX, the international vaccine fund.

Another challenge outlined by the world's most powerful economies has been the fight against climate change. The meeting to address the environmental problem and the protection of biodiversity was also attended by Prince Charles, who called on political leaders to take joint action. "What we are doing for the pandemic, we must also do for the planet," the British heir said.

The climate conversation took place at the Eden Project, the world's largest greenhouse in Cornwall. Queen Elizabeth II hosted a dinner there to discuss the issue with her son and politicians.

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PHOTO/REUTERS - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives ahead of the G7 meeting at Cornwall Airport in Newquay, Cornwall, Britain 10 June 2021.

Johnson presented his idea of a Marshall plan for climate change. The summit host talked about the creation of a Green Development Bank to administer aid to facilitate the ecological transition in developing countries. He called for a "more equal, cleaner and greener" planet.

Joe Biden's first summit with allusions to Russia and China

The G7 meeting is the US president's first foreign trip since taking office. This summit, with Biden's presence, marks a new beginning in relations between the United States and its allies. Gone are the years of Donald Trump, marked by disagreements and withdrawals from such important international pacts as the Paris Agreement on climate change and the nuclear deal with Iran.

"The United States is back," Biden declared, alluding to the return of a foreign policy characterised by good ties with its traditional partners. The US president used the summit to announce the purchase of more vaccines for developing countries. But his first G7 meeting has undoubtedly served to send a message of unity after Trump's term in office.

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PHOTO/AFP - US President Joe Biden delivers a speech on the COVID-19 pandemic in St Ives, Cornwall, 10 June 2021, ahead of the three-day G7 summit on 11-13 June.

Another issue to be addressed by the US side is the economy. Recently, the G7 finance ministers met in London to reform the tax system. At this meeting, they agreed on a 15% tax on multinational technology companies, a measure that is to be approved during this summit. According to a White House statement, "President Biden and the G7 partners are committed to a global recovery that benefits working and middle-class families at home and around the world". Once approved by the group of seven, it will be necessary to win the support of the G20 countries, which include Russia, China, India and Brazil.

The rest of the members have welcomed Biden's arrival with joy and hope. Merkel admitted she was "very happy" to have the US president at the summit, saying he would deliver a message "in support of value-based multilateralism that will lead to a dispute with Russia and in some respects also with China".

Both countries, currently embroiled in tensions with Western powers, were present during the first day of the summit. At the beginning of his trip, Biden said Russia faced "strong and significant" consequences if it engaged in certain activities. Biden and Putin are due to meet in Geneva on 16 June. However, the Russian president has acknowledged that he does not expect "major breakthroughs".

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PHOTO/REUTERS - German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) and her husband Joachim Sauer (R) arrive at Cornwall Airport near Newquay, Cornwall, on June 11, 2021 for the G7 summit.

Likewise, days before his trip, the US president declared in The Washington Post that "the United States must lead the world from a position of strength to confront the harmful activities of the governments of China and Russia". Back in the UK, he pledged with his British counterpart to launch a new investigation into the origins of COVID-19 in China, suggesting that the virus may have escaped from a laboratory. A Washington-driven green alternative to rival Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative will also be discussed at the summit.

The Chinese foreign ministry has already criticised Biden's actions, accusing him of "stirring up confrontation" and creating an agenda with allies against China. China is setting the world's agenda, according to China's Global Times newspaper. The newspaper believes that the reason why there are so many references to the Asian giant from the G7 is because "the world's economic and political centre of gravity has shifted eastwards".

EU leaders have also echoed Biden's stance and declared China a "systemic rival".

New alliance Washington-Paris

Emmanuel Macron was one of the politicians with whom Biden interacted most during the opening day of the summit. They even held an informal private conversation on the sidelines of the other leaders that served as a prelude to the bilateral meeting they will have today.

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PHOTO/REUTERS - France's President Emmanuel Macron and his spouse Brigitte Macron arrive at Cornwall Airport, Newquay, ahead of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain, on June 11, 2021.

"The leaders discussed various regional and bilateral issues, including COVID-19 and counter-terrorism efforts in the Sahel. They also reaffirmed the importance of US-France cooperation and the transatlantic partnership," a spokesperson said. The two leaders spoke amicably on several occasions, as well as walking together in a half-hug.

"Now that we are together, united and determined to make a difference, it is time to deliver. I am sure we will," Macron tweeted alongside a video with his US counterpart.

Minor post-Brexit tensions

Despite the general concord among G7 leaders, there have also been some moments of minor confrontation. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, and Macron clashed with Johnson over the Irish Protocol. The "sausage wars" are the latest episode of tensions between London and Brussels over Brexit. The European Union insists that frozen meat cannot be imported from outside the bloc, so Northern Ireland could be left without British meat products. The deadline for the free movement of frozen meat between the UK and Northern Ireland is 30 June.

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AFP/ PHIL NOBLE - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, European Council President Charles Michel, US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, French President Emmanuel Macron, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for a family photo upon arrival, French President Emmanuel Macron, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for a family photo upon arrival at the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, southwest England, on June 11, 2021.

"If after six months you cannot respect what you have negotiated, it means you are not going to respect anything. I believe in the weight of treaties," Macron said. On the other hand, Von der Leyen pointed out that "the Irish Protocol is the only solution and must be implemented in its entirety".

However, there are still two days ahead that can be used to bring the G7 members closer together. Coronavirus economic recovery and climate change will be back on the table. In addition, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be a virtual participant on the second day.