Leaders of world’s 20 biggest economies say they would ensure a fair distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, drugs, and tests around the world so that poorer countries were not left out, according to a final summit communique.

G20 commits to equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccine
Family photo composite for G20 summit is projected onto Salwa Palace in At-Turaif, one of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, on November 20, 2020. (Reuters)

G20 leaders have pledged to “spare no effort” in ensuring a fair distribution of coronavirus vaccines worldwide and reaffirm support for debt-laden poor countries, according to a communique. 

After a virtual summit hosted by Saudi Arabia, they said in a closing statement on Sunday: “We have mobilised resources to address the immediate financing needs in global health to support the research, development, manufacturing, and distribution of safe and effective Covid-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.”

They said they supported a global project for vaccines, tests and therapeutics – called Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT)Accelerator – and its COVAX facility to distribute vaccines.

The leaders said that a multilateral trading system is now as important as ever due to the coronavirus crisis, as they pledged to keep markets open and achieve fair and stable trade and investment environment.

The G20 also called on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to continue exploring additional tools that could help its members as the crisis evolves. 

Two summits in year proposed 

In a high-stakes webinar, leaders of the Group of 20 major powers have held a weekend of “digital diplomacy” to coordinate a response to the rampant pandemic and the worst economic recession in decades.

The unusual format, in place of a real-life meeting that coronavirus restrictions made impossible, has produced some awkward interactions and deprived the host nation Saudi Arabia of an opportunity to showcase itself on the international stage.

G20 leaders, in the communique, committed to addressing “financing needs” of Covid-19 vaccine rollout, and also reaffirmed necessary WTO reforms. 

The leaders promised to “support IMF’s aid to help address challenges of developing states, and also endorsed circular carbon economy platform.”

Meanwhile, during the summit, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman proposed holding two summits annually, first to be virtual mid-year and second in-person at year-end. 

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IMF for debt relief beyond world’s poorest countries 

The head of the International Monetary Fund on Sunday called for prompt and effective implementation of a new G20 framework set up to help the world’s poorest countries reach permanent debt relief, but said other countries needed help as well.

“It is critical to operationalise this framework promptly and effectively,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement after addressing the leaders of the Group of20 major economies. 

“Going forward, we must also help those countries not covered by the framework to address debt vulnerabilities so that their economies can become more resilient.”

The debt treatment framework endorsed by G20 leaders on Sunday applies to 73 countries that are eligible for a temporary freeze in official bilateral debt payments.

Covid-19 measures

US President Donald Trump made a brief appearance at the opening session on Saturday before logging off and going golfing, while other leaders braved technical quirks and the lack of opportunity for spontaneous interactions.

The two-day online gathering came as international efforts intensify for a large-scale rollout of coronavirus vaccines after a breakthrough in trials, and for G20 nations to plug a $4.5-billion funding shortfall.

“We have mobilised resources to address the immediate financing needs in global health to support the research, development, manufacturing, and distribution of safe and effective Covid-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines,” the communique said.

“We will spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members’ commitments to incentivise innovation.”

The communique offered no details however on how the effort will be funded.

In a comment echoed by other world leaders, French President said on Saturday that the coronavirus crisis was “a test for the G20”, stressing there “will be no effective response to the pandemic unless it is a global response”.

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Soaring debt and battered economies

G20 nations have contributed more than $21 billion to combat the pandemic, which has infected 56 million people globally and left 1.3 million dead, and injected $11 trillion to shore up the battered world economy, summit organisers said.

But the group faces mounting pressure to help stave off possible credit defaults among developing nations, as their debt soars in the economic catastrophe stoked by the virus.

It has extended a debt service suspension initiative (DSSI) for developing countries until June next year, but UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has pushed for a commitment to extend it until the end of 2021.

The communique did not offer a firm commitment.

G20 finance ministers will instead examine the recommendation when the IMF and World Bank meet next spring “if the economic and financial situation requires” an extension by another six months, it said.

On trade, the club of the world’s richest nations also emphasised that supporting a multilateral system “is now as important as ever”.

“We strive to realise the goal of a free, fair, inclusive, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable, and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open,” the communique said.

Trump defends climate accord withdrawal 

Ahead of the summit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she hoped the US will adopt a more multilateralist stance under the incoming administration of .

Trump’s robust “America first” trade policy has rankled world leaders.

Von der Leyen also added that she expected consensus and a “new momentum from the new US administration” on climate change and a reversal of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.

Differences within the G20 group surfaced at last year’s summit in the Japanese city of Osaka as the United States demanded the insertion of a separate paragraph on issues such as environmental protection.

Trump on Sunday defended his decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord, calling it “unfair and one-sided” even as President-elect Biden has pledged to rejoin the landmark agreement.

“I withdrew the United States from the unfair and one-sided Paris Climate accord, a very unfair act for the United States,” Trump said on the sidelines of the virtual summit.

“The Paris accord was not designed to save the environment. It was designed to kill the American economy.

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Saudi human rights record

But under the Saudi chairmanship – in a first for the Arab world – the G20 leaders projected a unified stance, with the communique reiterating support for tackling “pressing” environmental challenges.

The kingdom’s human rights record has cast a shadow on the gathering, as campaigners and families of jailed activists launch vigorous drives to highlight the issue.

But some Western officials have indicated human rights will not be raised at the summit, saying they prefer to use bilateral forums to discuss the issue with Riyadh.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies

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