The Magnificent (G)7

By Tiffany Burrows

Residents and tourists in Cornwall will see any plans they might have had for a quiet weekend in the sun disrupted by the sight of the global and political carnival that is the G7 rolling into town.

2021 sees the UK hold the Group of 7 (G7) presidency and host the annual summit of the world’s largest advanced economies – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States – from 11-13 June in Carbis Bay.

This is the first in-person summit in nearly two years and will see UK Government leaders welcome their G7 counterparts and representatives from the EU to Cornwall to discuss the pressing challenges and opportunities the world is currently facing; COVID-19 recovery (from both a health and economic perspective), the climate emergency, and the promotion of global development and democracy.

Along with the UK’s hosting of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow later this year, the G7 summit is a significant diplomatic moment for the UK, which will want to project confident and meaningful leadership on the world stage over the course of the first year since leaving the European Union. And there’s a lot to get through on the agenda.

COVAX diplomacy

Ahead of the summit, 100 former prime ministers, presidents and foreign ministers have urged the G7 to pay two thirds of the £46.6 billion needed to vaccinate low-income countries against COVID-19. As the first meeting of the G7 since the outbreak of COVID-19, it is unsurprising that the Prime Minister will call on G7 leaders to pledge to vaccinate the world by the end of next year. The Prime Minister said that “vaccinating the world by the end of next year would be the single greatest feat in medical history…” and hopes that the pledge will mean “we never allow the devastation wreaked by coronavirus to happen again”. The G7 leaders will not only discuss how to end the pandemic, but also how to mitigate against such a situation happening in the future, and how the world can strengthen its resilience.

It’s the climate, stupid

In preparing to ‘build back better’, the G7 leaders will also discuss the climate emergency and how to ‘build back greener’. As the summit’s website reminds us, this is the first G7 where all members have committed to the 2050 target of net zero carbon emissions. The Times this morning (8 June) reported that the approach being taken by the government is being likened to the Marshall Plan, the American aid program that helped finance the rebuilding of Europe following the destruction of the Second World War.  If the UK secures an historic ‘Clean Green Initiative’ at the G7, putting pressure on more reluctant countries – including China – it will significantly strengthen its hand going into COP26 in November.

Trading as Global Britain

The Government will seek to fully maximise the platform that hosting the G7 has gifted them in furthering its Global Britain strategy.  Nowhere is this more noticeable than the UK’s – and Trade Secretary Liz Truss’ – crusade championing free and fair trade and hitting out against protectionism, especially in the context of COVID-19.

Settling into its new role as an independent trading nation, we can therefore expect the UK to use the G7 to pursue a number of trade initiatives, including reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and modernising trade rules, establishing principles for digital trade, and tackling the competition and pressure from the rise of China.

Be our guest

The UK Government has invited Australia, South Africa, South Korea, and India as guests, taking the representation at the summit to 60% of the world’s democratic population.

The UK has a clear diplomatic motive for adding to the guestlist. Firstly, the summit will explore the feasibility of the D10, a grouping of the world’s largest democratic economies, which just so happens to include the G7 plus three of the UK’s esteemed guests (with South Africa being the exception). The D10 would be a modernised version of the G7 and one positioned (both economically and geographically) to counter the rise of China. The progress made on these discussions will be one to watch, as this grouping has been on the cards for a while.

Secondly, these are countries that the UK is keen to strengthen its trading relationships with. Strategically, these countries are considered priorities by the Government when it comes to securing Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) post-Brexit as the UK pivots to the Asia-Pacific and looks to strengthen ties with the Commonwealth (three are Commonwealth countries). Indeed, an FTA with Australia is due any day now, bringing one step closer the government’s objective of having 80% of UK trade covered by FTAs. It also can’t hurt to have the case for free trade championed in the presence a more protectionist country like India, which will be listening closely as it prepares for the opening of negotiations with the UK later this year.

Thirdly, the UK and the other G7 leaders, will need support from these guests if they are to agree the ambitious climate change plan that the government is hoping to secure.

The Special Relationship?

There will also be a lot of attention paid to how Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the US President Joe Biden interact and what this means for the Special Relationship, a term that has long been loved or loathed by diplomats and politicos. Biden’s view on Brexit is well documented, and Johnson will be looking to avoid any suggestion of tension between the US and the UK, particularly as negotiations for an FTA are ongoing and the UK will be looking to the US on support for its green agenda. That being said, it is highly likely that the US President will not miss the opportunity of facetime with his UK counterpart to raise his concerns about the situation in Northern Ireland and US support for the Northern Ireland Protocol.

A successful summit for the UK will therefore be judged by the UK Government’s ability to find consensus and secure ambitious commitments on its identified objectives around COVID recovery, climate change, and trade, but also on whether the hype and rhetoric of Global Britain lives up to expectations in reality.