G7 – the view from the top is fine, if a bit fuzzy

The omens were good for the G7 summit at Carbis Bay in Cornwall.  Untypical blazing sunshine and a victory for England’s footballers in the Euro Championships put the hosts in fine fettle (qualified only slightly by the NZ cricketers’ series win).  

The first and most important objective was achieved: the world leaders managed to agree not to disagree. Even better, no one called the host, Britain’s PM Boris Johnson, “weak and dishonest”, no matter how much they might have been tempted.

But despite the 25 page summit communique, direction and leadership was a little harder to find.

Certainly the leaders committed to end the pandemic, prepare for the future, reinvigorate economies, secure prosperity, protect the planet, strengthen partnerships and – finally – embrace our values.  

But the overriding sense was of politicians trying to bridge the gap between woke activism and their job-and-family constituents.  Their message: more of the same, but better – because now we all agree to “advance this open agenda in collaboration with other countries and within the multilateral rules-based system.”

With such ambition, it was perhaps inevitable that concrete initiatives would be thin on the ground.  There were nods to propitiatory green diplomacy, funding for girls’ education and future pandemic planning.  Detail monkeys might discern more long-term substance in the G7 finance ministers’ commitments to agree a global allocation of [corporate] taxing rights and hints of innovation in Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs).

Of more concern for those who think that markets play a crucial role in efficient resource allocation, it was hard to find references to market-led initiatives, productivity growth or carbon pricing.  The importance of “a fair and efficient carbon pricing trajectory to accelerate … decarbonisation” on page 16 was followed by the parallel commitment to “gender-responsive approaches to climate and nature financing, investment and policies, so that women and girls can participate fully in the future green economy.”  

The persiflage overshadowed some of the better bits.  It took the communique drafters until the 31st paragraph to get to the nub of the global challenge, observing politely:

”Future frontiers of the global economy and society – from cyber space to outer space – will determine the future prosperity and wellbeing of people all over the world in the decades ahead. As we are witnessing an increasing divergence of models, this transformation raises important questions about the interaction between economic opportunity, security, ethics, and human rights, and the balance between the role of the state, businesses and individuals.”

In this regard, they signalled a harder line on China, making explicit mention of Uigher persecutions in Xianjing and the need to protect the rights of Hongkongers “enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.”

But they struggled to agree on a consistent challenge to Chinese outreach, with Boris Johnson promoting a “green belt and road” plan against Joe Biden’s preferred focus on infrastructure funding, greater transparency and higher labour standards.   

On raw figures, it shouldn’t really be a contest: the G7 (plus EU) disburse more than $130 billion of development aid annually, against the $38 billion claimed for China.  So it makes you wonder what Western donor governments think they are getting for their taxpayers’ money.  And competing with China is harder when you agree to stop financing all the coal-fired power stations in poor countries implied by the Paris climate accord’s agreed emission pathways.

Perhaps the most useful diplomatic outcome from the G7 summit will be their implicit recognition that the forum must engage more widely, as shown by their efforts to draw India, South Korea, South Africa and Australia into a wider grouping, dubbed by Boris as the Democratic XI”.  

So no hard feelings about the cricket then.

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