Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pauses after responding to a question about the holidays during a news conference outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pauses after responding to a question about the holidays during a news conference outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Trudeau joins G20 in promising COVID-19 aid to poor nations, rejecting protectionism

However, called the summit a ‘non-event’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined leaders from the world’s 20 richest nations on Sunday in a promise to work together to keep trade flowing, fight climate change and provide COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries.

The promises are contained in a final communique issued by G20 leaders at the end of two days of largely closed-door virtual discussions ostensibly focused on co-ordinating an international response to the pandemic.

Despite the pledges, however, experts say the summit represented a missed opportunity for addressing the biggest issues facing the world today — in part because most of the commitments are not new.

The promises also do not come with any new money, including for vaccines in Africa and elsewhere, while the communique made no mention of human rights — despite the summit having been hosted by Saudi Arabia.

Trudeau did raise human rights with his counterparts throughout the virtual summit, according to the Prime Minister’s Office. He also pushed leaders on climate change, free trade and equal access to vaccines and other COVID-19 support for all people.

“Only together can we tackle the greatest challenges of today and tomorrow, and create a more resilient world that works for everyone,” Trudeau said in a statement after the meeting.

“The G20 virtual leaders’ summit was an opportunity to expand global efforts to fight COVID-19, restore economic growth, and combat climate change.”

Yet if the meeting was supposed to mark the start of a new era of international partnership, more than a decade after the group first came together in earnest to address the 2008 financial crisis, experts say it did anything but.

“Often with these events and communiques, you can point to five or six things on which there was some progress that was notable,” said retired Canadian diplomat Thomas Bernes, now a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

“Unfortunately, on this occasion it’s a missed opportunity for the world.”

Trudeau went into the G20 leaders’ summit looking for strong commitments on the provision of vaccines and other medical support to poor countries struggling with COVID-19. He also planned to push the fights against protectionism and climate change.

While Canada has committed $440 million to a global program designed to ensure equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine when it is ready, observers had hoped that G20 countries would pony up another US$4.5 billion to address a funding shortfall.

That didn’t happen, said John Kirton, co-director of the University of Toronto’s G20 Research Group.

“The G20, which has spent, as they proudly declare, $15 trillion to counter COVID just this year, couldn’t even agree to write down that they would come up with $4.5 billion to get those vaccines delivered around the world,” Kirton said.

A similar lack of details and concrete commitments was found when it came to many other issues, with leaders largely committing to a steady-as-she-goes approach to the pandemic as well as climate change, infrastructure spending and international trade.

That is despite Canada and many other countries now scrambling to respond to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, which is causing untold health and economic damage as well as triggering massive amounts of government spending.

Trudeau has framed that spending as an opportunity to address many of the inequities and root problems in the international economic system, including weaning the world off dirty energy and creating more sustainable infrastructure.

Such ideas were reflected in the communique, but without specifics or new timetables. Rather, it included numerous caveats giving countries plenty of wiggle room.

There was also no mention of restrictions on foreign companies bidding for infrastructure contracts. That is emerging as a source of concern for Canadian companies hoping to take advantage of such work in the U.S., in particular.

Kirton and Bernes attributed the lack of ambition and progress during the summit and in the communique to the fact the meeting was held virtually, which eliminated much of the energy, side conversations and spontaneity that typically mark such summits.

The fact it was held by Saudi Arabia, which is not accustomed to hosting such gatherings, and included what Bernes described as a “lame duck” U.S. president in Donald Trump, also contributed to the summit being what he called a “non-event.”

While Kirton described Trump’s participation, the arrival of Joe Biden as U.S. president next year and Italy taking over as president of the G20 as reason for optimism that the grouping is still relevant, Bernes said its failure on Sunday is a blow to global co-operation.

“The communique certainly identifies the challenges, but has made no substantive, significant progress in addressing COVID, climate change, the debt situation in many developing countries,” Bernes said.

“… It further erodes confidence in a multilateral system and makes the challenges therefore just much more difficult as we go forward.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusJustin Trudeau

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The scene of a single-vehicle crash along Dolphin Drive in Nanoose Bay on Monday morning, April 19. (Mandy Moraes photo)
RCMP: No injuries reported in rollover crash in Nanoose Bay

Police say passengers indicate driver left the scene

The Town of Qualicum Beach plans to establish temporary shelters. (Town of Qualicum Beach illustration)
Town of Qualicum Beach seeks $1.25M grant to build temporary housing units

Aim is to move tenants in prior to the end of 2021

Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association and its Nanaimo-Ladysmith counterpart seek stricter COVID-19 rules. (PQB News file photo)
Mount Arrowsmith teachers’ union asks health authority for stricter COVID-19 measures

Teachers ask for vaccine, more online learning, mask mandate for primary students

Dashwood Volunteer Fire Department emergency response vehicle. (PQB News file photo)
Dashwood fire department issues warning to residents to hold off on yard debris burning

Fire chief: ‘Hold off on burning until we get some rain’

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks at a press conference Monday, April 18. (B.C. Government image)
New COVID-19 cases tick down on the central Island

New cases held to single digits three days in a row

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Most Read