What Happened at the Biaritzz G-7?
Amb K P Fabian

The G-7 (U.S., Japan, Germany, U.K., France, Italy, and Canada, to list them in descending order of GDP) met for its 45th Session in Biarritz, France, from the 24th to 26th August ,2019. France, as the host, had invited eight other states: Australia, Burkina Faso, Chile, Egypt, India, Rwanda, Senegal, and South Africa, a list that emphasizes French colonial links with Africa. These invitees obviously did not attend the main G-7 deliberations. The international organizations present included the United Nations, OECD, World Bank Group, Africa Union Commission, Africa Development Bank, I.M.F., W.T.O., and I.L.O. Understandably, there was not much international media coverage of the observers except Prime Minister Modi whose meeting with President Trump was highlighted.

Keeping in mind the disastrous 2018 summit in Canada when President Trump left before the conclusion and ordered his representative to withdraw his signature from the agreed communique, President Macron must have heaved a sigh of relief this time. He had wisely announced in advance that there would be no joint communique.

The main issues discussed, with or without firm and clear decisions arrived at, can be seen from the brief press statement reproduced below.

On Trade:

‘The G7 is committed to open and fair world trade and to the stability of the global economy. The G7 requests that the Finance Ministers closely monitor the state of the global economy. Therefore, the G7 wishes to overhaul the WTO to improve effectiveness with regard to intellectual property protection, to settle disputes more swiftly and to eliminate unfair trade practices. The G7 commits to reaching in 2020 an agreement to simplify regulatory barriers and modernize international taxation within the framework of the OECD’.

On Iran:

‘We fully share two objectives: to ensure that Iran never acquires nuclear weapons and to foster peace and stability in the region’.

On Ukraine:

‘France and Germany will organize a Normandy format summit in the coming weeks to achieve tangible results’.

On Libya:

‘We support a truce in Libya that will lead to a long-term ceasefire.
We believe that only a political solution can ensure Libya’s stability.
We call for a well-prepared international conference to bring together all the stakeholders and regional actors relevant to this conflict.
We support in this regard the work of the United Nations and the African Union to set up an inter-Libyan conference’.

On Hong Kong:

‘The G7 reaffirms the existence and importance of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 on Hong Kong and calls for violence to be avoided’.

A few observations are in order. First, the G-7 met against the background of the U.S.-China trade initiated by President Trump. In Biarritz, Trump contradicted himself with abandon. On 23rd August, he called President Xi Jin Ping an ‘enemy’; he instructed U.S. companies working in China to get out and even claimed that a 1977 emergency powers law gave him the authority to order the companies to leave China. Two days later, the ‘enemy’ became a ‘great leader’; Trump wanted the companies to remain in China; and claimed that China had contacted U.S. saying that it wanted to resume trade talks, a claim that was denied by China.

We do not know the end game Trump has in mind. It is true that across the board there is consensus in U. S. that China is a threat and must be prevented from getting stronger. However, if the trade war leads to an economic downturn in U.S. before the 2020 presidential election, Trump will call for a cease-fire. Meanwhile, he would have inflicted considerable damage to the global trading system.

Second, coming to Iran, the wording is artful, concealing the deep divergence between Washington and others on the need to retain the 2015 nuclear deal, technically known as JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) denounced by Trump in 2018. Macron had, probably with Trump’s concurrence, invited the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif to Biarritz. He met the French foreign minister and senior officials from Germany and U.K. Trump ‘refused’ to meet him. In any case after imposing sanctions on Zarif recently, it might have been awkward for Trump to meet him even if Zarif had agreed to the meeting. Nevertheless, after talking to Trump and Rouhani, Macron was able to announce publicly that the two might meet ‘in a few weeks’ time’.

The international media gave the impression that Macron was not skating on thin ice when he made the announcement. It will be indeed surprising if the meeting should take place. Trump said that he would extend ‘some credit’ to alleviate the financial crunch in Iran if it agrees to a meeting. As expected, Rouhani has clearly stated that the sanctions imposed by Trump should be lifted before the talks. If Macron wants to save the crumbling JCPOA he and the rest of EU must buy oil from Iran. We do not know as of now whether the Europeans will defy Trump in that manner.

Third, France and Germany need not have waited for support from the G-7 to do what they have in mind for Ukraine.

Fourth, the G-7 does not have a unified position on Libya. The wordsmiths have concealed serious differences. France and U.S. support General Haftar of the self-styled Libyan National Army who has been waging a war against the U.N. recognized (sic) government in Tripoli.

Fifth, the formulation will irritate China which maintains, not very convincingly, that the agitation by the young in Hong Kong is engineered by Washington.

While the G-7 was on, the Amazon forest, producing 20 percent of oxygen was burning. However, President Trump refused to attend the session on climate change and hence Macron had to announce separately that the G-7 would give $22 million as aid to fight the raging fire.

The Amazon rain forest, over an area of 5.5 million square km is 1.6 times the area of India spread over Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Surinam, and French Guiana. It produces 6 percent of the oxygen produced by photosynthesizing organisms on earth, not 20 percent as mentioned by President Macron. If the Amazon rain forest is destroyed, there will be loss of rains and changes in rainfall patterns. Further, the forest is the richest concentration of biodiversity. President Bolsanaro initially rejected the offer, but later changed his mind. The unnecessary acrimonious personal exchanges between Macron and Bolsanaro remind us that international relations are not always determined by any objective sense of national interest in our times.

France had mobilized 13,000 policemen to secure the G-7. There were demonstrations, but the G-7 was in no way disturbed.

President Trump is the next host. He has announced his intention to invite President Putin and thus change G-7 to G-8. It may be recalled that Russia was thrown out after its annexation of the Crimea, a part of Ukraine, in 2014. Trump did not get much support for the idea of inviting Putin, but he might still do it. Essentially, the Europeans must realize that by continuing with the isolation of Russia there will be no desirable change in Russia’s behavior and in any case the annexation of the Crimea cannot be reversed except by war. Trump is essentially right in calling for the re-induction of Russia into the G-7. As a matter of fact, it was more a G-7+1 than a G-8.

Prime Minister Modi made good use of the G-7 to set the record straight on Jammu & Kashmir. He told President Trump, firmly but politely, that there was no scope for any mediation by third parties between India and Pakistan on Kashmir or any other issues. India is determined to deal with such matters bilaterally.

In conclusion, the G-7 has seen better days. We cannot be too sanguine about its immediate future in terms of its ability to address the global economic and political issues.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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