If you read the communiqué issued Thursday by G20 leaders, you might be heartened to find they’re talking about a lot of the key things that have to be co-ordinated around the planet.
But then you might notice what else is going on in the world.
U.S. President Donald Trump was thinking about sending troops to the Canadian border, although he reportedly dropped the idea last night. Supply chains of essential goods and medical supplies are being disrupted. The G20 summit’s nominal host, Saudi Arabia, has started an oil-price war that’s exacerbating economic chaos.
World leaders haven’t gotten their heads around international co-ordination for this coronavirus crisis. In particular, they haven’t grasped what’s different this time around.
The G20 was convened for the first time during the financial crisis of 2008, by then-U.S. President George W. Bush, and responded in a reasonably united fashion. The leaders agreed to play their part in a major global economic stimulus package and returned home to borrow and spend in a bid to set the global economy rolling again.
The G20 is doing a lot of that again. The U.S. Congress passed a US$2-trillion relief bill. Australia unveiled a package worth roughly 9 per cent of its annual GDP. In all, G20 leaders said they were committing $5-trillion.
Even if this economic crisis isn’t the same as the previous one, G20 leaders have accepted the notion that in an emergency, it’s best for every country to pump money into its economy. Do more for everyone by doing more for your own.
And, it must be said, several countries are putting sums into some obvious elements of the common good – Canada and Britain, among others, have announced sizeable sums for vaccine research.
It’s harder for world leaders to get behind co-operation when the payoff to them is less obvious.
There’s an international version of what’s happening at your supermarket: shortages of items that are in hot demand or irrationally hoarded. Countries that expected to import items such as masks now find they can’t get them. Some companies and countries have cut off exports of key items.
That screams for some co-ordinated expansion of production and measures to keep supply chains moving. The leaders’ communiqué promised vaguely that they’ll work on it, but so far, there are bidding wars and a proliferation of national barriers.
It’s not surprising that in these times it’s hard to muster foreign aid, such as the $2-billion package the UN asked the G20 to pledge for Africa. But in this case, it’s worth noting experts are now concerned that the spread of coronavirus might wane this summer in the northern hemisphere but take off in the southern hemisphere, and then return to the north in the fall.
And then, the general sense that we’re all in this crisis together is contradicted by beggar-thy-neighbour policies, blame-thy-neighbour rhetoric and bizarre national paranoia.
The G7 foreign ministers couldn’t agree on a joint statement because the United States petulantly insisted on calling COVID-19 the Wuhan virus. And the U.S. administration apparently chose this moment to consider sending troops to the Canadian border to help interdict people crossing between official border points.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada strongly opposed the idea – though she declined to say exactly what the U.S. proposed to do.
At any rate, countries tend to object when neighbours move troops to their border, and it’s hard to fathom why the U.S. would have chosen this crisis as the time to do it.
There isn’t a sudden flood of people leaving Canada to sneak into New York State.
If you’re inclined to write that off as just Donald Trump, well, the G20’s inability to fulfill its own pledge to do “whatever it takes” to deal with the coronavirus and its economic impacts sure didn’t match the leaders’ teleconference talks.
The meeting host was Saudi Arabia, which recklessly launched an oil-price war with Russia just as coronavirus was clobbering the global economy. That has hurt the U.S., Canada and others, and roiled markets. But a Canadian source briefed on the meeting said there wasn’t much talk about that.
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