Authors: Sourav Ghosh and Shalabh Chopra*
Through joint communique delivered at the end of the recently held Group of Seven (G7) summit, the leaders of the G7 countries- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States sought to show the world that international cooperation was back on track following the disruptions caused to multilateralism by the Covid-19 pandemic and former US President Donald Trump’s hostility towards multilateral initiatives.
The leaders agreed on a diverse set of initiatives, including a pledge to vaccinate poorer countries against Covid-19, a promise to make large corporations pay their fair share of taxes, and a joint initiative to tackle climate change with a blend of technology and money to ensure livable earth for every nation.
The summit also grabbed attention for its extravagance. Notably, 70 million euros were spent on its organization. Many experts and activists around the world termed it a waste of resources. According to them, if it had to be held at all, it should have been conducted online, saving time and logistical costs.
Although G7 serves as a forum to coordinate global policy, experts are skeptical about the group’s relevance in today’s world, thanks to many internal divisions in the forum and the rise in importance of the G20. Therefore, the question remains how vital the G7 is in a changed world.
Firstly, G7 has a serious issue of representation. Yes, it is true that when G7 was formed back in the 1970s, the new grouping did dominate the world economy. Japan’s economy was booming at an unprecedented speed that many expected it to catch up to the United States. In 1980, the G7 countries constituted 51 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (measured at international prices), whereas the developing countries of Asia accounted for just 8.8 percent. After two decades, the scenario has changed dramatically as, in 2021, the G7’s contribution to the global GDP contracted to about 31 percent, while the same for the Asian countries touches 32 percent.
Experts and analysts have criticized the relevance of G7 without including growing economies like Brazil, Russia, India, and giant China. Although Russia joined the group in 1998, making it the G8, but was later suspended from the group following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in March 2014.
Secondly, the tendency of the G7 leaders of not delivering on their promises is another concern. Covid-19 vaccines can be a good example. The G7 leaders set the goal of vaccinating at least 60 percent of the global population by the end of 2022. They also pledged to share 1 billion doses directly over the next year, presumably worth 500 million fully immunized individuals (with two doses per person). However, this is just the tip of the iceberg because 60 percent of the global population comes to 4.7 billion people or roughly ten times that number. The G7 leaders offered no framework for achieving that target.
Regarding the climate change issue, they reiterated the financial pledge of mobilizing $100 billion per year first made in 2009 to reach global decarbonization by 2025. However, these countries have already missed their deadline of 2020 for providing the long-promised $100 billion per year to the developing countries, which comprise a mere 0.2 percent of rich countries’ annual GDP.
Thirdly, the G7 leaders did not seem to reach a consensus on the China question. It looks a bit odd not to include the country in the grouping, which as of 2021, shares 18.78 percent of global GDP. According to Stewart M. Patrick of Council for Foreign Relations, along with Russia, China is a big concern for the G7 leaders as the country poses a “threefold threat” to G7 countries-economically, ideologically and geopolitically.
China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has prompted concerns about Beijing’s influence over developing countries. Brussels, Tokyo, and Washington have shared grievances over Beijing’s state-led economic model and alleged unfair trading practices. However, there are debates at the 2021 summit over how to counter the China threat that remains unclear, as some European countries and Japan are leery of jeopardizing commercial ties with the world’s second-largest economy.
Finally, there is a growing debate in the international arena whether G7 has lost its relevance to G20. Since its first formal summit in 2008, the G20 has served as a forum for the world’s leading economies. The G20, by including India, China, Brazil, Indonesia, and other large developing countries, represents around 80 percent of total output and can balance the interests of both high-income and developing countries. Therefore, the G7 is not perfect for addressing the global issues, as it leaves out smaller and poorer countries and must include African Union (AU) as a member.
In the 1970s, The G7 represented the democracies that had the largest economies. However, that notion is no longer good enough. In contrast, the G20 has done an excellent job as it offers a fruitful discussion on a number of global issues.
It won’t be unfair to term the G7 as an artifact of a bygone era. The G7 represents four major EU countries, so the annual EU-US Summit can accomplish much that the G7 initially aimed to cover. If the G7 leaders truly want global problem solving, they must bring Asia, Africa, and Latin America to the table. Otherwise, the G20 is already there to address and solve global concerns.
*Shalabh Chopra holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from South Asian University, New Delhi, India. He is interested in theories of IR and foreign policies of South Asian states.