G-7 leaders fighting on 2 fronts

In terms of serious summit business, the leaders will be talking about China today and, below the surface, it’s Brexit tensions that threaten to disrupt proceedings.

Let’s get into it.

What are the big topics, and most juicy one-to-one meetings today?

Anita Kumar

White House Correspondent & Associate Editor

I don’t know about “juicy” but the meeting I’m watching Saturday is between Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron. Biden will have some other casual meetings (those are called “pull asides” in summit lingo) but his only formal bilateral meeting is with Macron. Some American diplomats wondered how much Macron, who tried to fill the U.S. leadership vacuum left when Donald Trump was president, would embrace Biden. But in their first meeting Friday, they locked arms during a walk and spoke animatedly to each other — an interaction that immediately led some British media to dub it a budding bromance.

Rym Momtaz

Senior Correspondent, France

Hands-down the bilat between Macron and Biden. Macron’s delighted the U.S. is back with its full weight behind multilateralism, but actually wants Biden to show him the money — in particular on lifting the U.S. export ban on Covid-19 vaccine components, and acknowledging what Macron sees as the great strides achieved by Europe in “strategic autonomy “ during the Trump years. Taken in the broad sense, that means progress on 5G, reshoring production capacities, leading on setting global climate standards, and of course defense. Macron also doesn’t share Biden’s focus on China as the central next big threat — that’s bound to be an animated discussion. Macron did manage to refrain calling the transatlantic Alliance “brain dead” at his presser on Thursday, but he did say it still needs “a big strategic clarification.”

David M. Herszenhorn

Chief Brussels Correspondent

While Anita and Rym train their telescope looking for signs of a Biden-Macron bromance (can’t imagine they’ll hold hands or blab as long as Trump and Macron did), I’ll be keeping a close ear on discussions among all nine leaders about foreign policy and health. China will be a major focus of the foreign policy session, as will Russia. But Ethiopia is also an increasing source of concern. On health, the leaders broadly share the goal of ending the pandemic by next year, but there has been barely disguised jousting over who should get credit for supplying vaccines to the rest of the world.

Things could get tense as they — or rather their “sherpas” behind the scenes — try to settle on specific language, including on vaccine donations but also the controversial topic of waiving patent protections (endorsed by Biden, but with the Europeans skeptical and demanding details).

Esther Webber

senior U.K. correspondent

Unsurprisingly, Brits are all waiting for the outcome of the bilateral between Johnson and Macron and any sign that the French president repeated in private what he has said publicly — namely that it is a firm “non” to any renegotiation of the post-Brexit trade mechanism in Northern Ireland. Johnson has sit-downs with Merkel and the EU’s Ursula von der Leyen later today. EU leaders are pretty chuffed that Biden has lined up behind them on this, and pressed Downing Street to change their approach to negotiations, and may hope to press home that advantage today. British papers go big today on the idea EU leaders will team up to declare a “trade war” in bilateral meetings with Johnson — or “sausage wars,” as it’s been dubbed by local media.

Why does Brexit keep coming up at the G-7, and do I need to care?

Herszenhorn: Just look around! This summit is happening in one of the most Brexity parts of Britain and the G-7 is the huge debut for Boris Johnson’s Global Britain after throwing off the yoke of the oppressive (yes, I’m being sarcastic) EU. There’s lingering ill-feeling between Brussels and London over the U.K. quitting the club, but also serious disputes over aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement and trade accord about future EU-U.K. relations. You need to care because the U.S.-U.K. relationship is also caught up in this, with Biden and Congress having warned repeatedly about concern for Ireland, and that any negative fallout for Dublin could sour relations between London and Washington.

Meanwhile, Canada, which has its own free trade agreement with the EU, is also eyeing the situation, wondering if the U.K. can set aside emotions and collaborate in areas where they might jointly nudge Brussels. So far, all signs point to Brexit remaining highly emotional, with U.K. ministers on international television talking about their emotional attachment to sausages.

Momtaz: Brexit sure came up this morning in the bilateral meeting between Macron and Johnson. Relations between the two countries have been downright nasty at times in recent months. Remember that standoff in Jersey with fishermen from both sides and naval ships? Macron told Johnson this morning he was ready for a reset of relations, because the U.K. and France agree on a lot of the big global issues on the agenda — climate, biodiversity, health, etc. There’s even consensus on the need for Europe to be an active party of any renegotiation of arms control agreements between the U.S. and Russia, according to an Élysée official, but that has to happen in the context of the U.K. keeping its word and commitments in the Brexit agreement.

Webber: Sick of hearing about Brexit? Welcome to my world! As David says, it’s inevitable that it would cast a long shadow with the U.K. hosting the first international summit of this kind since we quit the EU. For Boris Johnson, the G-7 was always going to be an opportunity to project that Brexit does not mean Britain turning its back on the world and that it still has a role on the global stage. However, the ongoing row about how the U.K. is implementing certain parts of the withdrawal agreement means that any hope of using the summit as a way to draw a line under the EU-U.K. animosity is kaput. And under Joe Biden, the U.S. has apparently decided to join the party. Come on in, it’s absolutely the worst!

What can we expect the G-7 to agree on China?

Kumar: Biden isn’t just pushing infrastructure at home. He’ll push it at the G-7 too. The administration wants countries to agree to create what the White House describes as a “higher quality” alternative to China’s Belt and Road infrastructure project. The global infrastructure program is — surprise! — called Build Back Better for the World, and would be funded in part with existing U.S. contributions to overseas infrastructure financing through the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Momtaz: Other than Covid Covid Covid, it is China China China — here at G-7 and next week at NATO and at the EU-U.S. summit. Macron’s zinger about differences over the Chinese military threat will help set the tone: “For my part, China isn’t part of the Atlantic geography, or perhaps my map is off.” But France is also pushing back against China’s fait accompli policy in the Indopacific, the French Defense Minister Florence Parly told me in May.

Given the EU-China investment deal won’t be ratified any time soon, perhaps that’s an opening for a landing strip of agreement on some China language at this G-7. The other question is: will the leaders come up with new language on the investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak, that China has not been cooperating with?

Herszenhorn: Expect a chunky section of the communique on China to infuriate Beijing by referencing regional security issues, including concerns about Uyghurs, Hong Kong and Taiwan. We got a preview from the recent joint statement following a virtual EU-Japan leaders’ summit.

Ryan HeathGlobal Translations author

The EU leadership and U.S. administration have real differences about how hard they are prepared to push back on Beijing, but at least they’ve started to use fairly similar language to talk about it. Leaders on both sides will tell you that China is a combination of collaborator, competitor and adversary. Together that pitches China as a systemic rival to democracies. Ultimately the G-7 members will have to pay for their policy: if they want to really start tipping the scales in the China relationship that means bigger investment in fundamental research, a real infrastructure alternative to Belt & Road, and coordination of retaliatory tariffs if Beijing bullies a democracy.

The G-7 commitment to deliver “one billion doses” of Covid vaccines to poorer countries is getting flak for not being enough: What’s the deal?

Carmen Paun

global health correspondent

I think leaders will brush it off and say this is just the beginning. One of Biden’s senior advisers already said Thursday that they are still planning to share some more excess doses, on top of the 580 million pledged so far. The EU is touting their help from the beginning of the pandemic, and is trying not to be upstaged by the U.S.The U.K. promised 100 million doses but, with what appears to be a worsening pandemic situation domestically, it’s hard to push them further. Timing matters more than the overall number of doses offered. UNICEF and others involved in the international vaccination effort are calling for doses now, especially in South America, Asia and Africa.

Kumar: The pandemic is part of everything at this G-7 (you should see what the testing is like for journalists attending!) but I agree with Carmen that the leaders will move on somewhat on Saturday. They’ll still talk about health care but they will also have sessions on the economy and foreign policy (read: China). Health organizations and human rights groups will push for more, but the commitments by the U.S. and other countries is a big step. Others are likely to follow.

Momtaz: The line out of the Élysée for the last week has been that this G-7 is the Health G-7; it’s all about agreeing to ramp up concrete ways to speed up vaccine solidarity and get the world at full speed. After talking with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Macron said that instead talking about total doses, it makes more sense to talk about the percentage of the population that gets vaccinated. An Élysée official said the goal must be to vaccinate 60 percent of the population of poorer countries — namely on the African continent — by March 2022.

Herszenhorn: The simple truth is rich countries should be ashamed, take to heart the criticism from leaders like Ramaphosa, and engage in some collective self-reflection. But let’s not hold our breath. As the rich countries jockey for credit over who’s doing more, what’s striking is how as a group, they simply haven’t done enough. A senior EU official on Friday said, “The EU is the pharmacy of the world, including for G7 countries” and noted that of 350 millions doses exported from the EU, which is roughly 50 percent of production, “almost half” went to non-G7 countries. Let’s reverse that statement: less than half of vaccine doses exported from the EU went to non-G7 countries. That mean more than 75 percent of total EU vaccine production went to the roughly 10 percent of human beings who live in the world’s richest democracies. Hmmm.

Anything else you’re looking out for?

Momtaz: I’m looking to the beachside informal BBQ dinner tonight — will leaders go barefoot at the beach? Will they be wearing their best bonfire chic? Who will take charge of the BBQ? Will Biden show Macron that France may have haute cuisine but America has charred meat? Will they dip their toes in the water? So many questions… alas this will all go down far far away from our curious and prying eyes.

And will there be a Royal sighting? I know. Another question about the Royals, but why not?

Kumar: Justin Trudeau met with the Queen already (via video). Biden saw her at a reception and will visit with her Sunday before leaving the country but I’m waiting to see who will be next. Jill Biden has another event separate from her husband Saturday. No Royals are expected at this one, but the first lady will meet with members of a local volunteer group that assists U.K. military veterans, first responders and their families. It’s an issue she champions at home too.

We’ll see you in a few hours to wrap up all the big news from Day 2. Send us any questions you want to see our roving (fenced-in?) band of reporters answer.

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