G-20 backs equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines

Its leaders also reaffirm support for debt-laden poor nations in coordinated response to pandemic, recession

Projection of a "Family Photo" for the annual G-20 Leaders' Summit onto Salwa Palace in At-Turaif, Saudi Arabia, on Nov 20, 2020.
Projection of a "Family Photo" for the annual G-20 Leaders' Summit onto Salwa Palace in At-Turaif, Saudi Arabia, on Nov 20, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

RIYADH • G-20 leaders pledged to "spare no effort" in ensuring fair distribution of coronavirus vaccines worldwide, and reaffirmed support for debt-laden poor countries, according to a communique released yesterday.

The Group of 20 major powers also struck a unified tone on supporting multilateral trade and fighting against climate change, but the closing document lacked details on many of the issues dominating the virtual summit that took place over the weekend.

In a high-stakes webinar on Saturday and yesterday, G-20 leaders engaged in "digital diplomacy" to coordinate a response to the rampant pandemic and the worst economic recession in decades.

The format, in place of a physical meeting that Covid-19 restrictions made impossible, produced some awkward interactions.

United States 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 gathering comes as global efforts intensify for a large-scale rollout of coronavirus vaccines after a breakthrough in trials, and for G-20 nations to plug a US$4.5 billion (S$6.1 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 document 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 Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday that the Covid-19 crisis is "a test for the G-20", stressing there "will be no effective response to the pandemic unless it is a global response".

G-20 nations have contributed more than US$21 billion to combat the pandemic, which has infected over 58 million people globally and left more than 1.3 million dead, and injected US$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 coronavirus.

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

The communique did not offer a firm commitment. G-20 finance ministers will instead examine the recommendation when the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meet next spring, to see "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 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 statement said.

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

The incumbent Mr Trump's robust "America first" trade policy has rankled world leaders.

Dr von der Leyen added that she expected consensus and a "new momentum from the new US administration" on climate change, and a reversal of Mr Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.

Differences within the G-20 group surfaced at last year's summit in the Japanese city of Osaka as the US demanded the insertion of a separate paragraph on issues such as environmental protection.

But under Saudi chairmanship - in a first for the Arab world - the G-20 leaders projected a unified stance, with the draft communique reiterating support for tackling "pressing" environmental challenges.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2020, with the headline 'G-20 backs equitable access to vaccines'. Print Edition | Subscribe