The Uncertain Expansion of the G7

US President Donald Trump has decided to postpone the Group of Seven (G7) summit until September this year due to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, calling for an expansion of the group’s membership. According to Trump, the group’s current format no longer represents what’s going on in this fast-paced world.

“I’m postponing it because I don’t feel that as a G7 it properly represents what’s going on in the world,” Trump said.

What is the G7?

The G7 is a group of the world’s most advanced economies consisting of the US, Japan, Italy, the UK, France, Germany, and Canada.

Trump’s idea comes amid ongoing tension with China over several issues, ranging from trade and the contested South China Sea, to the COVID-19 pandemic. Washington has blamed Beijing for the widespread outbreak and accused the World Health Organization (WHO) of being China’s puppet.

Trump Plans to Invite Russia, India, South Korea, and India

Trump said he would expand the invitation list by including India, Australia, and South Korea. He also suggested that Russia become involved again despite being kicked out of the group (previously called the G8) due to the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

However, it is not clear whether Trump’s idea to include those four countries is to expand the group’s membership permanently.

How Have G7 Member States Reacted?

The EU rejected the idea of the G7 expansion including Russia, warning Washington that it could not change the format unilaterally despite being the bloc’s presidency.

“Russia’s participation in the G8 has been suspended until Russia changes course and the environment allows for the G8 to again have a meaningful discussion. This is not currently the case,” the E.U spokesman stated as Reuters cited.

Trump’s G7 expansion’s proposal by including Russia raised questions from Moscow and the Kremlin diplomats said they would seek clarifications from Washington.

“President (Vladimir)Putin is a supporter of dialogue in all directions, but in this case, in order to respond to such initiatives, we need to receive more information, which we unfortunately do not have,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

China was upset with Trump’s proposal, warning that any attempts to ally against the mainland will be “unpopular” or “doomed to fail.”

“We believe this is the role of the overwhelming majority of the countries in the world. Any attempts to seek a small circle against China is doomed to fail and is unpopular,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told the press.

Understanding the Roots of the G7

In 1975, Italy, France, the UK, Japan, the US, and then-West Germany set up the Group of Six (G6), aimed at providing rooms for the non-communist countries to discuss economic issues, which at that time focused on the oil embargo that led to a recession.

Canada joined in 1976 and Russia in 1998 after the collapse of the communism, marking a good cooperation between the West and the East blocs.

However, as mentioned, Russia’s membership was suspended after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

G7 and G20: What are the Main Differences?

The G7 is comprised of seven industrialized nations. While the Group of 20 (G20) —which was formed in 1999 after the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98 — also includes several developing countries such as India, Indonesia, and Argentina.

The G20 represents 85 percent of the global GDP. They include Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Australia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the UK, Turkey, the EU, and the US.

The G7 mainly focuses on politics, while the G20 focuses on economic issues. The latter started with the meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors.

However, after the global crisis in 2008, the G20 meeting was enhanced to a meeting of head of state level during its inaugural summit in Washington D.C.

Both blocs hold a summit every year, although the decisions from the summit are not binding.

The G7 and G20 are Still Both Highly Important

As the world is rapidly changing, many question whether both blocs are still relevant in providing solutions to global various problems, especially amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Kelly Ann Shaw, former Deputy Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council at Hogan Lovells, told Insideover that discussing on too many issues makes such a bloc lose its relevances.

“Taking on too much, as opposed to focusing on a few key issues, has caused a number of international forums to lose their effectiveness. In the case of the G7 and G20, traditionally, if an issue is placed on the agenda once there is an expectation that it will remain on the agenda in subsequent years. The result has been water downed summits that attempt to take on everything at the expense of meaningful progress on anything,” Shaw replied when asked why such a summit seems to lose its relevances.

However, the G-20 summit has discussed broader issues such as the big data and climate change as well as other geopolitical issues, as Prof.Daniel Bradlow, SARCHI Professor of International Development Law and African Economic Relations at University of Pretoria, told Insideover.

The law professor called on more integrated cooperation in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, claiming that that the G7 response was not coordinated.

“They didn’t announce any new initiatives except the suspension initiative, which fought for the poorest developing countries. But if this is if the G7 and the G20 were working effectively, you would think there would be coordinated mechanisms to say, here’s how the world can deal with this crisis(COVID-19) better,” Bradlow said, adding that “We have got to make sure that health equipment to work on vaccine financial initiatives is all coordinated to produce the most benefit for the international community. And that’s not happening.”

However, Bradlow agreed that the current G7 format is outdated.

“I think it’s become more of a geopolitical than an economic grouping that represents the Western interests in the world more than the global interest. So when you look at the countries that are there, they’re all with the exception of Japan, they’re all Western countries. And Japan is really part of the western globe, the western system rather than sort of changing the system now. I would say that represents the old, rich, white, Western-dominated global economy and that it shouldn’t be,” Bradlow said, adding that the expansion would not work as long as the way the bloc works remains the same.

Shaw emphasized how both G-7 and G-20 should eradicate bureaucratic red-tape aimed at mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both the G20 and G7 were created out of crises as leaders needed settings free from bureaucratic red tape to share bold and frank ideas on how to overcome the world’s most pressing challenges. We need that boldness now. If this year’s G20 and G7 summits remain focused, there is tremendous opportunity for both to meaningfully address COVID-19 and the ensuing global economic recovery.

Despite having the dispute over the START arms treaty extension with Russia, Trump wants to include Moscow due to his relationship with Putin.

“The relationship between President Trump and President Putin with him is that that’s a different story.That might be closer than the relationship between the two countries,” Bradlow claimed.

Countering China Won’t Resolve the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 that has sickened more than six million globally started in Wuhan, China. However, blaming China solely for the pandemic is not helpful too, given that each country should learn how to mitigate the crisis.

“Much better to say. Look, do you think China did well? Maybe it took longer than estimate to inform the world and that’s a problem. And if that’s the case, we need to know that. And China just has to live with the fact that it didn’t do a good job. But many other countries will have to live with the fact that they didn’t do a good job either,” Bradlow said.

“But I mean, as a human society, we need to understand these kinds of pandemics that could come back most likely to come back in different ways in the future,” the professor said, wrapping up the interview.

Bradlow also cast doubt over the upcoming G7 virtual conference.