Published:  12:12 AM, 10 September 2019

G7 summit ends with a veneer of unity

G7 summit ends with a veneer of unity

Troubled by street demonstrations in Paris on a regular basis for the last few months, President Emmanuel Macron made a wise decision to convene the recently concluded annual G7 Summit in Biarritz instead of the capital. This enabled him to avoid the Gilets Jaunes movement disrupting the meeting.

There were also informal meetings on the sidelines between these leaders and Heads of Government from other countries. This included meetings between President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Modi and Egyptian President el-Sisi. Modi used this opportunity to point out that existing problems between India and Pakistan were bilateral in nature and needed to be resolved bilaterally without third party mediation.

There were several dimensions that evolved during the meeting. They generated interest and world attention instead of confusion. It was not a repeat of what had happened the last time round in Canada.

The first matter that drew the G7 attention was the need to address the issue of the ongoing fires that were raging in the Amazon forest in Brazil. Called "the lungs of the Earth", the Amazon rain forest and its lush trees generate roughly 20 per cent of the oxygen on Earth.

President Macron described the fires as an "international crisis" and pushed for them to be prioritized at the G7 summit. The severity of the situation was underlined by the fact that according to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research , more than 75,000 fires had been recorded in Brazil so far in 2019 - an increase of 85 per cent over 2018, most of them in the Amazon region.

Environmental activists also accused President Bolsonaro of emboldening miners and loggers to deliberately start fires to illegally deforest land. Farmers were apparently generating fires to create open land for grazing of cows (for eventual production of beef), for cultivation of grains and soya beans and also for exploration of minerals.

After intensive discussion at the G7 Summit it was agreed to provide logistical and financial support to help fight fires in the Amazon rain forest. A pledge of US Dollar 22 million was agreed to in this regard. However, the Brazilian President, upset with the criticism from G7, turned down this offer because according to him Mr Macron's plan of an "alliance" to "save" the Amazon treated Brazil "as if we were a colony or no man's land".

The severity of the fires and the global outcry eventually prompted response by President Bolsonaro. He authorised the military to help tackle the blazes through military intervention in seven Brazilian States. Bolsonaro eventually also agreed to accept the funds offered by G7 if Brazil could control the disbursement of these funds.

Such a measure to contain the situation is being viewed as an example of Macron's commitment towards fighting the factors that can create climate variability and expedite global warming. Analysts have however noted that President Trump was missing from the session covering climate, biodiversity and oceans during the Summit.

The second issue that drew world attention was the sudden arrival of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Biarritz. His surprise appearance was consistent with efforts by European leaders to salvage the nuclear deal agreed to in 2015 but affected after Trump withdrew from the Agreement in 2018.

This effort was obviously undertaken because France and Germany both believe that there needs to be a resolution of the growing tension between the US and Iran. Both believe that the levying of sanctions on Iran was affecting not only the economics of the region and the Persian Gulf but also exacerbating matters and creating instability between Iran and the European nations.

Analysts in this regard have noted German Chancellor Angela Merkel's comment that that "we had very productive talks on this issue but it is still moving, and is slowly moving forward but there is a long way to go." Macron has also expressed optimism in this regard.

Iran's President Rouhani in a televised speech however has responded by pointing out that Tehran was ready for talks, but that "first the US should act by lifting all illegal, unjust and unfair sanctions imposed on Iran." Rouhani also added that if Trump's only concern was Iran gaining nuclear weapons, there was "nothing to worry about."

It would be worthwhile to note here that both the US and Iranian leaders are due to attend the forthcoming UN General Assembly session that will start in New York from the third Tuesday of September.

The next subject that drew the attention of the other six members of G7 was that of the way the US was handling its existing differences on matters of trade with China.

A required solution in this regard was further heightened through an agreement in principle among G7 Members on the taxation of tech giants- a long standing subject of friction between France and the US which has led to threats of taxation on French products like wine.

The resolution of this dispute drew careful attention of the other Members towards the continuing issues that were creating problems between China and the USA with regard not only to investment but also different elements related to industrialization.

The deepening trade war with China it may be noted is occurring at a nervous moment for the US Administration with growth slowing in Europe and some indicators suggesting the US could experience a slowdown. Concern along these lines mounted after China's retaliatory move on tariffs on 23 August, which was met with an extraordinary tirade by Trump against Beijing and Federal Reserve Chief Jerome Powell.

This raised questions among G7 Member analysts about US coherence on economic policy and how a possible world recession might have to be met during the forthcoming US Presidential election year.

It would be worthwhile to note here that while Trump still has majority approval for his handling of the economy in the poll - 53% - only 25% of those asked have remarked that they believed his handling of trade with China will actually work.

Trump, during the Meeting has tried to draw attention to the fact that despite the worsening trade imbroglio with China, good economic news had been created through the possibility of a free trade deal with Japan. Economists feel that this would help Trump to face the backlash from US farming groups over his China trade war.

Now Japan can buy the "excess corn" from American farmers. It was not however immediately clear whether the new pact would benefit the US more than the terms of the Trans Pacific Partnership, the trade pact Trump rejected early in his term.

Macron at the end of the Summit tried to ease tensions with a statement that he and others in the G7 were hoping very much that an agreement is found between the two most important economic powers as "we have seen some positive signals during the last hours of discussion here."

The fact that the Summit ended without a final communique underlined Macron's cleverness about creating a semblance of unity rather than discord as happened during the 44th Summit last year in Canada. Macron will be remembered for creating a veneer that would enable participants to call the glass half-full rather than half-empty.

The writer, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance. He is a regular columnist of The Asian Age.

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