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International relations

G-7 leaders say 2021 will be turning point for multilateralism

Countries pledge to contribute $7.5bn toward distributing COVID vaccines

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosts the online G-7 Summit in the Cabinet Room at Downing Street in London on Feb. 19.   © Reuters

LONDON -- Leaders from the Group of Seven industrialized nations vowed to make the year 2021 a turning point for multilateralism, seeking to forge a united front on tackling the coronavirus crisis and cutting carbon emissions.

The virtual meeting held Friday was the G-7 debut for U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The gathering provided an opportunity to start rebuilding ties frayed under previous U.S. President Donald Trump and his "America First" approach.

"Drawing on our strengths and values as democratic, open economies and societies, we will work together and with others to make 2021 a turning point for multilateralism and to shape a recovery that promotes the health and prosperity of our people and planet," the leaders said in a joint statement released after the meeting.

China was mentioned only once in the statement, relating to the G-7's support for a "fair and mutually beneficial global economic system." The leaders said they would engage especially with "G-20 countries including large economies such as China" and affirmed their commitment toward addressing "non-market oriented policies and practices."

Leaders discussed working together to accelerate vaccine distribution worldwide. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as chair of the G-7 meeting, encouraged other members to boost their financial contributions to the United Nations-backed COVAX facility, which aims to provide equitable vaccine access to low-income countries. They pledged to contribute a combined $7.5 billion to such efforts.

Johnson also promised to donate the U.K.'s surplus vaccine supply to the COVAX program.

On handling the economic fallout from the pandemic, "we have provided unprecedented support for our economies over the past year totaling over $6 trillion across the G7," the leaders said in the joint statement. "We will continue to support our economies to protect jobs and support a strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive recovery."

On climate change, G-7 members laid out plans to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. On Friday, the Biden administration officially rejoined the Paris climate accord, which Trump withdrew the U.S. from soon after taking office.

Suga expressed Japan's determination to hold the Tokyo Olympics this summer, and briefed the leaders on the preparations Tokyo is making together with the International Olympic Committee. 

In the joint statement, the leaders said "We support the commitment of Japan to hold the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 in a safe and secure manner this summer as a symbol of global unity in overcoming COVID-19."

The meeting marked the start of a shift away from the tensions of the Trump era. At the the 2019 summit in France's Biarritz, the group adopted a minimal joint statement in place of the usual communique amid friction between Trump and other leaders. Last year, the coronavirus pandemic prevented any in-person summits that could have helped ease tensions.

G-7 leaders are slated to meet face-to-face this June in Cornwall in eastern England.

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