United States hopes to bond with allies at G-7 summit

When leaders of some of the world’s richest nations meet Friday at the English seaside for a three-day Group of Seven summit, much of the choreography will be familiar. But the world has changed dramatically.

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June 10, 2021 - 9:20 AM

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive in Great Britain on June 9, 2021. (Phil Noble/Pool/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

LONDON (AP) — When leaders of some of the world’s richest nations meet Friday at the English seaside for a three-day Group of Seven summit, much of the choreography will be familiar.

But the world has changed dramatically.

Since the G-7 last met two years ago, the coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 3.7 million people and decimated economies with lockdowns and layoffs. 

So when Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes U.S. President Joe Biden  and the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada to the cliff-ringed Carbis Bay beach resort in southwest England, pandemic recovery — “building back better,” in a phrase both Biden and Johnson like — will top the agenda.

Johnson said the meeting would help move on from “a miserable period of competition and squabbling” that marked the early response to the pandemic.

“This is the moment for the world’s greatest and most technologically advanced democracies to shoulder their responsibilities and to vaccinate the world, because no one can be protected until everyone has been protected,” he said in an article published Thursday, a day before the summit’s official start.

Before the pandemic, Johnson planned this to be a climate-dominated summit. He had wanted to make it a major staging post to November’s international COP26 meeting on climate change in Glasgow, eliciting ambitious targets for slashing carbon emissions and expanding green industries.

That’s still on the agenda, but the meeting will be dominated by COVID-19, with discussions focusing on physical and economic recovery and building resilience against future pandemics. Lest anyone forget that the virus is still raging, there will be daily coronavirus tests for attending politicians, diplomats, staff and journalists.

Biden made a vaccine pledge before the meeting got underway, announcing that the U.S. will buy 500 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine to share with poorer countries over the next year.

That upped the pressure on Johnson, who has not yet sent any of Britain’s vaccine doses abroad. Almost four-fifths of adults in the U.K. have had the first of two shots.

Johnson said Thursday that Britain would donate “millions” of doses from surplus stocks — though he didn’t say when.

Johnson also noted that the British government helped fund development at Oxford University of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which accounts for one in three doses around the world. 

France said President Emmanuel Macron wanted to see “results and not just announcements” on vaccines.

“We need a specific calendar — how many people worldwide and especially in Africa will be vaccinated” before a meeting of the G-20 in Rome in October, an official in the president’s office said, noting that Africa has received under 2% of the world’s coronavirus vaccine doses.

Even without the pandemic, this would be a moment of flux for the rich countries’ club. It’s a first G-7 summit for Biden and Japan’s Yoshihide Suga, who took office in September. Italy’s Mario Draghi is a veteran of senior international roles but has been prime minister only since February. And it’s the swan song for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will leave office in the coming months after 16 years in power.

The summit is seen as a major test for Johnson, a divisive leader at home and abroad whose two years in office have been dominated by the consecutive crises of Brexit and the pandemic. 

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