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

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta identifies 1,516 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

Central zone has 1,849 active cases

A damaged unicorn statue is shown in a field outside of Delia, Alta. in this undated handout photo. It’s not often police can report that a unicorn has been found, but it was the truth Saturday when RCMP said a stolen, stainless-steel statue of the mythical beast had been located in a field not far from where he’d been taken. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Mounties get their unicorn; stolen statue of mythical beast found in Alberta field

Police are still looking for suspects, and have called in their forensics experts to help

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
Dr. Wayne John Edwards, 66, died Tuesday at Chinook Regional Hospital. (Cornerstone Funeral Home)
Lethbridge doctor becomes 7th Alberta health-care worker to die from COVID-19

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, who was 66, died Tuesday at the Chinook Regional Hospital in the southern Alberta city

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

Erin O’Toole said he supports a woman’s right to choose and will personally vote against the private member’s bill

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

Most Read