What are the key issues at stake at the G-7 summit?

  • Jun 10, 2021
  • The Boston Globe

This week, the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan will convene in England for the annual Group of 7 summit, a gathering of the world’s most powerful economies.

In addition to the fight to bring down global rates of COVID-19 deaths, here are some of the key issues that are likely to be at the forefront of their discussions.

The looming crisis posed by climate change is expected to be one of the summit’s major themes. Although all the leaders in attendance have acknowledged the problem, they will face pressure to announce concrete policies designed to tackle it head-on. According to the Times, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson intends to press leaders to sign onto a climate “Marshall Plan” that would fund renewable energy projects in developing nations in Africa and Asia.

Australia, the only G-7 nation that has not pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, will probably be urged to do so, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Ahead of the summit, G-7 nations reached a historic deal to set a minimum global corporate tax rate, aimed at ending the “race to the bottom,” in which companies move overseas to reduce their tax obligations. That agreement is only the first step, however: The Group of 20 and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development still have to sign off on the deal, and the process of rewriting international tax laws is expected to be long and complicated.

In the meantime, questions about the logistics of the arrangement have emerged, such as how leaders can guarantee that it will be approved and enforced by every country. There's also some debate about whether the 15 percent minimum tax rate is high enough.

Last month, trade representatives from the G-7 countries signed a communique committing to “free and fair trade as foundational principles and objectives of the rules-based multilateral trading system.” Not everyone, however, agrees on how to get there.

President Biden is expected to focus in part on preventing China from using trade relations to punish its critics. Johnson’s team has called for changing World Trade Organization regulations, with actors such as China in mind.

The Northern Ireland Protocol — a sensitive part of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union — will also probably top the trade agenda, as Biden and European leaders are expected to pressure Johnson not to renege on the pact.

With the summit being held in Britain, the issues surrounding the country’s protracted exit from the European Union will be on full display. British newspapers reported Thursday that the Biden administration had issued a demarche — a formal diplomatic message — warning that the British government is “imperiling the Northern Ireland peace process over Brexit.”

Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, told the BBC this week that “our concern runs very deep on the Northern Ireland issue” but did not link it to a proposed free trade agreement between Britain and the United States.

Tensions between Britain and EU member states also remain high, with Europeans starting legal action over alleged breaches of a long-delayed exit deal. One dispute has been dubbed the “Sausage War,” with Britain accused of delays in the enforcement of promised controls and inspections of goods passing between Britain and Northern Ireland across the Irish Sea.

Biden has made it clear that he views the solidarity against autocratic nations one of his key aims of the summit — and notably, immediately after the gathering he will join Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva for their first in-person meeting as world leaders.

In an op-ed published before his trip, Biden wrote at length about his meeting with the Russian leader, noting that Western countries will be standing “united to address Russia’s challenges to European security, starting with its aggression in Ukraine.”

Also at stake will be Putin's ongoing support for Belarusian autocrat Alexander Lukashenko, who has refused to relinquish power despite mass protests following a disputed election last year, instead turning his state's security forces on critics and activists.

Further sanctions on Belarus are expected to be debated at the summit. British government officials said last month that the G-7 would discuss “Belarus’s reckless and dangerous behavior” but would not agree to a request by France to invite opposition figures to the event.