Saudi king Salman urges united response to COVID-19 in G20 virtual summit

Suban Abdulla
·4-min read
G20 summit or meeting concept. Row from flags of members of G20 Group of Twenty and list of countries, 3d illustration
G20 summit or meeting concept. Row from flags of members of G20 Group of Twenty and list of countries, 3d illustration: Photo: Getty

The leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies will debate how to tackle a global post-pandemic economic recovery and climate change in a two-day meeting over the weekend.

Saudi Arabia — the first Arab country to host a G20 summit — is holding it as a virtual meeting spread across two-days due to the coronavirus pandemic.

King Salman, who is presiding over the summit, said: “We have a duty to rise to the challenge together during this summit and give a strong message of hope and reassurance,” in his opening remarks.

“We must also continue to support the global economy and reopen our economies and borders to facilitate the mobility of trade and people,” he added.

The G20 nations represent around 85% of the world’s economic output and three-quarters of international trade.

COVID-19 will be high on the agenda, as well as purchases and global distribution of vaccines, drugs and tests for low-income countries that cannot afford such expenses themselves. The virus has so far claimed more than 1.37 million lives as infections continue to rage on.

The European Union will urge the G20 on Saturday to invest $4.5bn (£3.4bn) to help, it will also propose a treaty on pandemics to help prepare for the future.

“An international treaty would help us respond more quickly and in a more coordinated manner,” the chairman of EU leaders Charles Michel is expecting to tell the G20 on Sunday.

Saudi’s finance minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said the summit “will seek to strengthen international cooperation to support the global economic recovery.”

Meanwhile, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said: “The G20 committed in March to do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic and protect lives and livelihoods. Johnson said that leaders “must hold” themselves “to account for that promise.”

The world’s wealthiest countries face mounting pressure to help stave off possible credit defaults across developing nations. While the global economy is recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, momentum is slowing in nations with rising infections.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned in a report for the G20 summit that the recovery is uneven and the pandemic is likely to leave deep scars.

On Friday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that poor people and highly indebted countries in the developing world are especially vulnerable, as they are “on the precipice of financial ruin and escalating poverty, hunger and untold suffering.”

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EU countries in the G20, motivated by the upcoming change of the US administration will also seek to revive talks on the stalled reform of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Outgoing president Trump favoured bilateral trade deals over working through international bodies.

Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, are expected to make speeches.

US president Donald Trump, who refuses to concede a bitter election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, will also participate, a US official said.

Climate change is also said to be on the agenda, with the change of US leadership raising hopes of tackling climate change at a G20 level.

Under Trump, the US pulled out of the Paris Agreement on fighting climate change, but the decision is likely to be reversed by President-elect Biden.

Following the example of EU nations, half of the G20 members, including Japan, China, South Korea and South Africa, plan to become climate — or at least carbon-neutral by 2050 or soon after.

“We expect, of course, new momentum from the new US administration on this issue, thanks to the President-elect’s declaration that the US would join the Paris Agreement once again,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said.

To help finance the fight against climate change the European Union will push for the G20 nations to agree on common global standards on what constitutes “green” investment.

Leaders from the 20 wealthiest countries, including the US, China, Germany, Russia and other nations will release a final joint statement after the video conference.

The kingdom has come under fire for its human rights violations following the slaying of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Campaigners and family members of jailed activists have called on G20 leaders to urge the country to release its imprisoned activists.

On Thursday, Amnesty International — a UK-based group — said activists who led campaigns for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia continue to be imprisoned or are facing trial, despite the fact that women’s empowerment is on the gulf country’s G20 agenda.

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