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The G7 Biarritz Summit: A Substantial Success

John Kirton, Director, G7 Research Group
August 26, 2019

G7 leaders meeting at Biarritz, France, from August 24 to 26, 2019, have produced a summit of substantial success. They made meaningful advances across most of the 15 priorities French president Emmanuel Macron as host had set as early as September 2018. They also responded effectively to the most recent shock of forest fires in the Amazon Basin and mounted a dramatic initiative to curb potential nuclear weapons proliferation in Iran and the other security, energy and economic threats flowing from there. Only on the critical climate crisis did they fail to do enough to meet the compounding global need, with time rapidly running out.

The first advance came on health. Canada, followed in turn by the European Union, Japan and Germany, announced significant increases in their financial contribution to the Global Fund on AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Canada committed a 15.7% increase of CAD 930 million, the European Union a 15.8% increase of EUR 550 million, Japan a 5% increase of USD 840 million, Germany a 19% increase of 1 billion and Italy a 15% increase of EUR 161 million. France indicated that it would contribute, too. In his closing press conference, President Macron said that EUR 4.6 billion had been raised.

These new contributions amounted to a promising total. It was a good start to mobilizing the $14 billion funding needed at the Global Fund's replenishment conference in Lyon in October this year. It remains to be seen if the United Kingdom and the United States will announce their contributions.

The second advance came on the environment. On the summit's eve host President Macron declared he would have the leaders focus on the forest fires ravaging the Amazon in Brazil and beyond. In response to a request from Colombia, G7 leaders agreed to offer all affected countries in Amazon the technical, financial and other support they needed to stop the damage being done. After phone calls from Macron and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro agreed to send his army to fight the fires. G7 members would immediately act to stop the fires by providing the specialized firefighting personnel, equipment and aircraft needed there. At the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York of September 23, they would work with the countries of the Amazon Basin, coordinated by Chilean president Sebastián Piñera, to produce a medium-term preventive and reforestation plan.

The third advance came on trade. In mid-afternoon of the summit's second day the United States and Japan announced that they had agreed in principle on a bilateral free trade agreement. This major advance for trade liberalization between the first- and third-ranked economies in the world would do much to strengthen the currently sagging global economic growth and offset the damage being done by the escalating China-U.S. trade war and the one between Japan and Korea too. On the summit's second day, Trump after his bilateral with German chancellor Angela Merkel stated he had just spoken to the Chinese government, which said it wanted "calm" and that negotiations between the two were thus going very well.

These advances would offset the greatest protectionist blow since the 1930s, occurring if Prime Minister Boris Johnson succeeds by October 31 in his threat to pull the United Kingdom out of the European Union – the biggest and most successful free trade area and economic union in the world. Moreover, as Japan has recently signed its own free trade with the European Union, it shows the already suffering and anxious people of Britain that the big G7 partners want free trade with the European Union other than a much diminished little Britain alone.

The fourth advance came on security. On the afternoon of the second day, the news broke that a plane had landed in Biarritz carrying Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his officials. This offered the hope that the Biarritz Summit could broker a deal to contain Iran's nuclear and missile program, its support for terrorism in the Middle East, its support for those attacking Israel and Yemen, and the Revolutionary Guards' seizure of oil tankers in Strait of Hormuz. In return, this could lead to a relaxation of U.S. sanctions against Iran and reduce the possibility that Iran could experience a full-blown financial crisis that could spread to vulnerable countries such as Turkey next door. A deal would also solve the great disagreement between the United States and Europe over Trump's decision to withdraw from the earlier nuclear agreement with Iran.

The next morning, the last day of the summit, Donald Trump indicated that the G7 would issue a joint statement on Iran. He suggested that he was willing to support this G7-inspired and -brokered initiative to find a solution. It was likely that the process begun at Biarritz would continue at the United National General Assembly in September.

The fifth advance came on gender equality. At the end of the first day, the G7 had discussed gender equality. They had endorsed enough of the recommendation as of the Gender Equality Advisory Council to secure public praise from that group.

The sixth advance came on Africa. The outreach sessions on Africa produced progress across many issues, with a particular focus on the problems of the Sahel. The next day, the G7 released its first five documents, all of which were on Africa and confirmed the previous day's results.

Together these documents contained 40 precise, future-oriented, politically binding commitments. The United States bound itself to all. This total compared to the 87 commitments on Africa at the Kananaskis Summit in 2002 and the 48 at Heiligendamm in 2017. And the 46 at Gleneagles in 2005. The Biarritz Declaration for a G7 & Africa Partnership had six commitments, Promoting Women's Entrepreneurship in Africa had two, Digital Transformation in Africa had 14, Transparency in Public Procurement and the Fight Against Corruption had one and the Sahel Partnership Action Plan had 17. These commitments showed substantial synergies with other summit priorities. Eight referred to gender, four to health and the natural environment two. One of the five documents focused fully on women.

The seventh advance came on a serious of security issues, recorded in the one-page, pre-negotiated, consensus declaration to which all G7 leaders agreed. On Ukraine it declare that France and Germany would organize a summit in the Normandy Format in the coming weeks to secure concrete results. On Libya it made four commitments. On Hong Kong it affirmed the importance of the 1984 Sino-British agreement and called for violence to be avoided now.

On trade, it affirmed the value of open and fair trade and international economic stability, the need to reform the World Trade Organization and members' work to modernize international fiscal rules by 2020 through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

As the summit ended there were no documents issued recording results on several other issues, including the ecological ones. On biodiversity, important progress was probable made. But on climate change, the sparse results so far prevented Biarritz from being more than a summit of substantial success. The greatest achievement was the strong unity among all leaders that was generated by the event. But Donald Trump skipped the session on biodiversity on climate change. In his concluding news conference, in response to a question, he avoided any mention of the existence of climate change, while emphasizing the value of economic growth based on the exploitation of natural resources and energy from hydrocarbons. On the greatest existential and urgent crisis facing humanity, the G7 Biarritz Summit was failure of the first rank.

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