G-7 summit returns to its roots

September 05, 2019

The Group of Seven summit hosted by France in Biarritz yielded a G-7 Leaders' Declaration - a one-page document summarizing the summit's conclusions. The short summary symbolizes the industrialized democracies' return to the spirit of the group's initial gathering in Rambouillet, France, in 1975, said Laurent Pic, the French ambassador to Japan, at a Genron NPO panel discussion that looked back on the G-7 summit in August.

"When the G-7 started in Rambouillet, leaders of like-minded countries tried to solve the major problems facing the world through informal talks. The (Biarritz) summit returned to that spirit of the G-7," Pic said.

Joining Pic on the panel for the Sept. 5 discussion were: Tamaki Tsukada, a deputy assistant minister of the Economic Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who acted as a sous-sherpa of the Japanese government at the Biarritz summit; and Christopher LaFleur, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan and a former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy.

Genron President Yasushi Kudo, the moderator, opened the discussion by asking how the panelists assessed French President Emmanuel Macron's decision to abandon the tradition of a joint final communique. "Was it a way to find a new methodology for the G-7 or an attempt to avoid a debacle when reaching a consensus is very difficult?" he asked.

Pic said the summit worked more on discussing global problems than writing a communique. "We had many informal talks on various themes to find the way forward to preserve multilateralism. No one, even diplomats, would read 20 pages of a communique. Instead we spent time discussing facts and actions for solving problems. Under the new methodology, we talked with civic groups, nongovernmental organizations and business sectors so we could send short and clear messages."

LaFleur agreed with Pic that Macron had successfully returned the summit to "the original concept of trying to build trust and confidence among the leaders, which was more important for the meeting going forward." He added, "President Macron can be congratulated for taking lemons and making lemonade."

Tsukada said, "Unlike past G-7 meetings, where the joint communique was prepared by bureaucrats for the leaders' endorsement, the Biarritz declaration was actually written by the leaders themselves based on discussions."

The three panelists shared the view that informal discussions took place in Biarritz as the G-7's original objectives intended.

At the same time, the summit also involved an elaborate ministerial- and administrative-level decision-making process, Pic said, citing two examples: the G-7 countries' agreement to provide $20 million in emergency funding to combat Amazon rainforest fires and a commitment to developing new rules for international taxation within the framework of the OECD.


Close affinity between G-7 and G-20

Tsukada, who was a sous-sherpa at the G-20 finance ministers meeting in Osaka in June, said there is a distinct difference between the G-20 and G-7. "While the G-20 is operated under meticulously planned themes and a well-prepared script, the G-7 is an occasion for the heads of like-minded countries to exchange strategic thinking on certain problems. Bureaucrats could not possibly do this."

He added the latest G-7 and G-20 meetings went very well and there was close affinity between the two, thanks to the efforts of France and Japan.

Referring back to the fact that the first meeting of the heads of state and governments of six industrialized democracies was born out of a necessity to cooperate to solve economic problems facing the world in the 1970s, with the first oil crisis and the collapse of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system, Kudo pointed out that the world today is in a similar situation as the deepening U.S.-China confrontation threatens the global economy. The leaders discussed how they can solve the problem. He then suggested the latest agreement seemed "unclear in terms of confronting the risks facing the world economy."

Pic countered, saying, the G-7 Leaders' Declaration includes the commitment in clear language that "the G-7 wishes to overhaul the WTO to improve the effectiveness with regard to intellectual property protection, to settle disputes more swiftly and eliminate unfair trade practices." The G-7 document specified a mechanism for conflict resolution for the first time in the three years since the Trump administration entered the White House, he added.

Tsukada said one of the most important agreements reached at the G-7 summit was one recognizing escalating U.S.-China friction as a fundamental cause of global economic downside risks. "The G-20 failed to reach a consensus, but the G-7 was able to. It was a great achievement," Tsukada said.

LaFleur talked about the serious problem of inequality.
"Speaking from a business perspective, efforts to reinforce the global trading system are certainly something businesses welcome. Although the global economy has moved forward rapidly over the last 40 to 50 years, unfortunately, in the process some people are feeling left behind."
He said the G-20 and G-7 needed to discuss ways to convince these people that globalization is in their best interests.


China to be on G-7 agenda next year

Citing three norms of G-7 countries ― multilateralism, rule-based free economy and democracy - Kudo asked two final questions; "Do you think G-7 member countries will be able to maintain their solidarity and play a leading role to address global issues?" and "What do you expect for next year's G-7, under a U.S. presidency?"

LaFleur replied, "It will be the greatest G-7 ever."
He said resolving questions involving China will be the most important theme on the agenda.

Tsukada is of the opinion that the G-7 "should play a leading role in the world."
Quoting a senior diplomat from years ago, Tsukada said the greatest threat to humanity would be China in the 21st century, while it was communism in the 20th century.
Commenting on the prospects for the 2020 G-7, Tsukada said, "It will be the least bureaucratic summit."

Referring to President Macron's speech to the annual French ambassadors conference in Paris on Aug. 27, Pic emphasized maintaining the multilateral world order.

"In the near future we might have to choose between two powers - the United States and China. The idea is not to have to choose between the United States and China, but still be able to live our own way and to have a multilateral world order in which we can also have a say. That is, balancing various interests and working to create a world that is not dominated by a few powers but one in which everyone has a say."

To close, Kudo said The Genron NPO will start preparing for the Tokyo Conference, which submits opinions and proposals to the G-7 and G-20 presidencies. Comprising the world's leading think tanks from 10 democracies, it aims to promote discussions of global issues. The conference was conceived out of concern that the common values and norms that have sustained global prosperity since the end of World War II are being threatened.

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