RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The Group of 20 (G20) leaders underscored in their joint statement the urgent need to bring the spread of the COVID-19 virus under control, which is key to supporting global economic recovery.
In the Leaders’ Declaration released on Sunday at the conclusion of the two-day G20 Riyadh summit, the G20 leaders said that the COVID19 pandemic and its unprecedented impact “is an unparalleled shock that has revealed vulnerabilities in our preparedness and response and underscored our common challenges.”
The leaders also expressed their gratitude to and support for health and other frontline workers as they continue to fight the pandemic.
“We have mobilized 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.
“We will spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members’ commitments to incentivize innovation,” they added.
The G20 leaders highlighted their conviction that coordinated global action, solidarity, and multilateral cooperation are more necessary today than ever to overcome the current challenges.
They also acknowledged that connectivity, digital technologies, and policies have played a key role in strengthening the response to the pandemic and facilitating the continuation of economic activity.
The leaders also vowed to advance global pandemic preparedness, prevention, detection, and response, support the multilateral trading system and accelerate efforts to end poverty and tackle inequalities.
“Our ongoing response to the crisis caused by COVID-19 marks a defining moment in our history,” they said, adding that they will “address the vulnerabilities revealed by this crisis, take the necessary steps to recover stronger, and work to ensure that future generations are safer than we have been.”
Merkel ‘worried’ over vaccine rollout
While G20 leaders vowed to ensure fair distribution of coronavirus vaccines, but the united front was punctured by German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced concern about slow progress.
Merkel said she was concerned that no major vaccine agreements had yet been struck for poorer nations, even as rich countries have already bought up huge numbers of doses from pharmaceutical firms.
“We will now speak with (global vaccine alliance group) GAVI about when these negotiations will begin because I am somewhat worried that nothing has been done on that yet,” Merkel said in Berlin.
At a news conference, Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed alJadaan emphasized that there was consensus among G20 nations that “if we leave any country behind, we will be behind.”
But as richer nations plan their vaccination programs, with the US expecting to launch in early December, experts warn that developing countries face hurdles that could deny billions the first proven protection against the virus.
French President Emmanuel Macron called on his counterparts to “go further and faster” by donating doses, forging industrial partnerships and even sharing intellectual property.
Calls are mounting for the G20 to help plug a $4.5-billion funding gap in the so-called ACT-Accelerator, a mechanism led by the World Health Organization that aims to ensure access to tests, treatments and vaccines for all.
“More funding is needed,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, adding that she had called on G20 leaders to fill the gap by the end of this year.
Soaring debt 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 organizers said.
In the final statement, leaders said that in the face of an “uneven, highly uncertain” recovery they were “determined to continue to use all available policy tools as long as required to safeguard people’s lives, jobs and incomes.”
But the group faces mounting pressure to help stave off possible credit defaults among poorer nations, as their debt soars amid the economic catastrophe stoked by the virus.
The G20 has extended a debt service suspension initiative (DSSI) for developing countries until June, but the United Nations has led calls for it to be prolonged until the end of 2021.
The communique did not offer any guarantees.
Instead, G20 finance ministers will 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, they said.
With the world in disarray after months of border closures and lockdowns, the group also struck a unified tone on trade, saying that supporting a multilateral system “is now as important as ever.”
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has cast a shadow on the gathering, as campaigners and families of jailed activists launched vigorous drives to highlight the issue.
But the issue barely surfaced over the weekend, with Western officials indicating they prefer to use bilateral forums to discuss the issue with Riyadh.
The two-day G20 Leaders’ Summit, held under Saudi presidency, concluded on Sunday. Next year, Italy will be the G20’s chair.
Indonesia will assume G20 presidency in 2022 after a swap with India, which will chair the world’s biggest economies summit in 2023, the Indonesian foreign minister said Sunday.
Retno Marsudi said the change of plan was agreed considering that Indonesia would also chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2023.
“Originally the Indonesian presidency was due to be in 2023,” she said at a press conference.
“However, considering that in 2023 Indonesia will also hold ASEAN chairmanship, Indonesia has discussed [to swap] the G20 chairmanship timing with India.
“India also has had the same request to change the G20 presidency in 2023.”
Chaired this year by Saudi Arabia, the current G20 virtual summit has focused on distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and economic recovery.
Created in 1999, the G20 is a forum for international cooperation on financial and economic issues.
The group comprises 19 countries plus the EU.
The countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, Britain, and the United States.