Leaders of the Group of Seven rich democracies wrapped up a three-day summit on Monday with little progress in resolving tensions over U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade policies, a troubled world economy, the climate crisis and fraying Iranian nuclear deal.
But the G-7 summit in the Atlantic beach resort of Biarritz, France — overshadowed by fears of an escalating trade war between the United States and China that could send a slowing global economy into recession — ended with modest progress over Amazon’s rainforest fires, a potential Iran meeting and digital taxes.
G-7 leaders reached agreement to create a US$22.2 million fund that will provide immediate support to Amazon countries where huge fires are destroying significant swaths of the world’s largest tropical rainforest as farmers, loggers and others set trees on fire and clear land to make money. The fund will also be used to launch a longer-term initiative for protecting the vast rainforests.
The summit also may have set the stage for a meeting between Trump and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani when they head to the United Nations General Assembly in September. The summit’s host, French President Emmanuel Macron, rolled the dice by inviting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for a surprise visit on Sunday in a bid to bolster the nuclear deal. Macron later said the “conditions for a meeting” between U.S.-Iranian leaders had been created.
Even before the summit ended, however, Macron decided there would be no traditional, final communiqué because of Trump’s intransigence on a host of policies. Instead, France issued a short statement at the end of the summit on trade, Iran, Ukraine, Libya and Hong Kong.
The leaders’ declaration said the G-7 is “committed to open and fair world trade and to the stability of the global economy” and “wishes to overhaul” the World Trade Organization so that it becomes more effective at protecting intellectual property, settling disputes quickly and eliminating unfair trade practices.
The seven nations said they were committed to reaching agreement in 2020 to simplify regulatory barriers and modernize international taxation within the framework of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.
At last year’s G-7 summit in Canada, Trump torpedoed the meeting’s end results. Trump described the host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as a “dishonest and weak” leader who made “false statements.” Trump then waited until he was departing aboard Air Force One to disavow the final communiqué that had been negotiated over two days of meetings, reflecting bitter differences over issues such as trade disputes, climate change, NATO, Iran, Russia and North Korea.
Just before leaving for France this year, Trump threatened new tariffs on French wine in retaliation for France’s digital services tax. Macron said G-7 nations reached “a very good deal” in which France would scrap its own digital tax after a broader such tax discussed among the OECD’s 134 member nations was instituted.
European Council President Donald Tusk had predicted the G-7 summit would be “a difficult test of the unity and solidarity of the free world and its leaders.”
Tusk, who heads the council of leaders of the 28-member European Union, called for an end to trade wars and said none of the E.U.’s members want a trade dispute with the United States. Still, he cautioned that the E.U. would be forced to “respond in kind” against U.S. products if Trump were to impose wine tariffs.
“There is still no certainty on whether the group will be able to find common solutions – and the global challenges are today really serious — or whether to focus on senseless disputes among each other,” Tusk told a news conference.
At Macron’s direction, G-7 officials from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States also discussed the Amazon wildfires, global warming and digital transformation. Most of the leaders also joined Macron, a champion of multilateralism, in pushing back at Trump. Macron further upped the ante by cornering Trump over his policies at an impromptu lunch.
The French leader, citing the globally important Amazonian rainforests, threatened to block an E.U. trade deal with South American nations, including Brazil, while also accusing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro of lying about his commitment to tackle climate change, pollution and environmental destruction.
“The decisions and statements from Brazil these recent weeks show clearly that President Bolsonaro has decided to not respect his commitments on the climate, nor to involve himself on the issue of biodiversity,” Macron’s office said in a statement. He also tweeted his concerns.
Bolsonaro, for his part, indicated that his country likely would reject the G-7’s offered financial assistance package, saying the international organization treats Amazon countries like “a colony or a no-man’s land.” Trump skipped the G-7 leaders’ discussions on the climate, biodiversity and oceans, and those on the fires in the Amazon, instead leaving it to his aides to brief him.
Trump announced in 2017 he would withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris Agreement, which committed the world to keeping global average temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C. above pre-industrial levels.
The agreement, signed by 195 nations, took effect in 2016. But one of its provisions bars any nation that signed it from giving a one-year notice of departure until at least November 4, 2019. This means none of the signatories, including the United States, can exit until November 4, 2020 — exactly one day after the next U.S. presidential election.
The Trump administration denies the science of human-caused climate change and wants to increase coal-burning in the United States, the second-biggest greenhouse gas emitter behind China. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who was on hand for the G-7 climate talks on Monday, said after the meeting that he hoped Americans would fight climate change regardless of Trump.
“I am very optimistic about American society and its capacity to deliver in relation to climate action,” Guterres said. “People all over the world want a greener, cleaner and safer world. We have the tools to address the climate emergency, but we need more political will.”
At Macron’s request, U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Bertrand Piccard, a Swiss psychiatrist who co-piloted the first solar round-the-world flight, addressed the G-7 leaders. Piccard told them that he was there not because of his flight “but because I have proof that clean technologies exist and can achieve impossible goals.”
He argued that clean energy is good for the world economy.
“The good news is that in the field of the environment, these technologies have become profitable, which means that we are not condemned between fighting growth which creates social chaos and keeping the quantitative growth that we have today which leads to environmental chaos,” said Piccard. “There is a third way: qualitative growth.”
Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let's discuss this emergency first order in two days! #ActForTheAmazon pic.twitter.com/dogOJj9big
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) August 22, 2019
— G7 UK (@G7) August 25, 2019
Russia, China, Iran, Ukraine and Libya
The E.U. is sometimes called the G-7’s eighth member. The G-7 formerly was the G-8, until Russia was expelled in 2014 after its annexation of Crimea. Macron rejected Trump’s request for Russia to be allowed to rejoin the group. Trump also expressed sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin and blamed former U.S. President Barack Obama for Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
On Monday, Trump told reporters that when the U.S. takes over the G-7 presidency in 2020, the annual summit “probably” would be held in Miami, where he said the leaders could meet at his Trump National Doral hotel and golf resort. If that were to happen, it would be yet another instance of Trump using the presidency to enrich his Trump Organization’s properties and business.
“We haven’t made a final decision, but it’s right next to the airport and it’s a great place. It’s got tremendous acreage,” Trump said in a sales pitch. “We love the location of the hotel and we also like the fact that it’s right next to the airport and it’s Miami.”
The G-7 leaders’ declaration was certain to raise the ire of Beijing, by making reference to the current unrest in Hong Kong. The group said it reaffirms “the existence and importance of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 on Hong Kong and calls for violence to be avoided.”
That treaty, which took effect in 1985, had called for China to reassume control of Hong Kong — which was occupied by Britain after the Opium War in 1840 — starting on July 1, 1997. It also included a promise that the city would maintain a high degree of autonomy.
The G-7 said that France and Germany would organize a summit in the coming weeks to achieve “tangible results” on Ukraine, as a precondition for Russia’s potential readmission to the group. The E.U. had imposed sanctions on Moscow for giving support to rebels fighting Kiev troops in the east.
The leaders’ declaration also called for a truce in Libya to set the stage for a long-term ceasefire, saying that only a political solution could ensure Libya’s longterm stability. “We call for a well-prepared international conference to bring together all the stakeholders and regional actors relevant to this conflict,” it said, adding that the group backs U.N. and African Union efforts to set up an inter-Libyan conference.
Major powers have been scrambling to salvage their nuclear deal with Iran in the wake of Trump’s decision to withdraw and reimpose U.S. sanctions on the Mideast regional power. The 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, has required Iran to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of United Nations-brokered international sanctions.
The JCPOA was struck between Iran and the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany and the European Union. But since the U.S. withdrawal, Europe has been under pressure to salvage it.
“We fully share two objectives: to ensure that Iran never acquires nuclear weapons and to foster peace and stability in the region,” the G-7 leaders said in the declaration.
Iran’s President Rouhani said in a televised speech that his foreign minister’s appearance at the G-7 summit was a necessary gamble. Rouhani’s remarks appeared aimed at defending against Iran’s hard-liners who have rejected more negotiations until all sanctions on Iran’s economy are lifted.
“If I knew that going to a meeting and visiting a person would help my country’s development and resolve the problems of the people, I would not miss it,” Rouhani said. “Even if the odds of success are not 90 percent but are 20 or 10 percent, we must move ahead with it. We should not miss opportunities.”