President Trump’s decision to delay a G7 summit that had been set for June will give countries more time to come up with substantial outcomes aimed at mitigating the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the economy and developing supply-chain solutions, according to analysts and former White House officials.
Trump announced over the weekend that the G7 summit, which was slated for this month, likely will be held in September — and said he hoped to invite South Korea, Australia, India and Russia as well. None of the four are members of the G7. Trump had hoped to hold an in-person summit in the Washington, DC, area this month but postponed it after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would not attend due to the pandemic.
Clete Willems, a partner at Akin Gump, said the countries must remain in touch and work toward an in-person meeting, which he said would be hard to “replicate” virtually. Willems served as the deputy assistant to the president for international economics through March 2019 and was also deputy director of the National Economic Council. He played a key role in the trade talks between the U.S. and China, among others, and was a lead negotiator at G20, G7 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings.
“I think whether or not they get together virtually now versus in person later — that’s not going to change the fact that these guys are on the phone with each other on a very routine basis,” he told Inside U.S. Trade. “I understand from the White House that they are talking almost daily to each other.”
“As long as the White House and these other countries are able to come up with safety protocols that allow them to travel, I think it’s so much more valuable to have an in-person meeting,” he added. “I think to the extent that it takes them a couple more months for them to figure that out is worth doing. My understanding is that they are all in touch anyway.”
Kelly Ann Shaw, a partner at Hogan Lovells, said postponing the summit was logical given the pandemic. Shaw took over for Willems at the White House last year and left in November.
“A few additional months to prepare and observe will create a better atmosphere for cooperation and creative thinking among Leaders on ways to rebuild the global economy,” she told Inside U.S. Trade in an email.
Wendy Cutler, vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute and a former acting deputy U.S. Trade Representative, also lauded the administration’s decision to delay the summit.
“Postponement of #G7 meeting is a blessing in disguise,” she tweeted on Monday. “Gives over 4 months to prepare for real, meaningful outcomes instead of just grandstanding and blaming others.”
Trade policy was a focal point of last year’s G7 summit, which was held in Biarritz, France.
Shaw said the G7 “at its core” was a forum to address “global economic growth and related political challenges” and contended that trade will be discussed at this year’s meeting.
“Trade is an indelible component of growth and has been on the agenda since the original Declaration of Rambouillet in 1975 — it certainly will be a part of this year’s G7,” she continued. “There may be a number of trade issues on the table in September, including the proliferation of export restrictions, supply chain vulnerabilities, unfair trade practices, and non-market economies.”
Willems said he was less hopeful that trade would take up as much of this year’s agenda, contending it would likely take a backseat to health and economic issues related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I don’t know how much of a focus trade is going to be. My understanding is that there is going to be a lot of focus on coronavirus and the health and economic aspects of that. I think there is going to be a lot of focus on China, some of that may have trade ramifications,” he added. “They will definitely want to have a China focus and that is where you could get much of trade stuff. I don’t know — in terms of an independent trade section — how much I would expect there.”
He also lauded the inclusion of other countries that share G7 ideals, adding, “Australia, India and Spain all went to last year’s [summit].”
“As a neutral matter, it’s not unprecedented for there to be more than just the G7 countries,” he said. “The idea of having certain additional countries attend who share many of the same viewpoints as the other G7 members and who are going to be key allies in working on all of these issues would be important. I would definitely put Australia and South Korea on that list. I’m not so sure whether Russia meets that criteria. I think they want to think long and hard about their inclusion.”
Russia’s membership to the G8 was suspended in 2014 due to its annexation of Crimea.
Trump on Saturday called the G7’s membership “outdated,” adding, “I don’t feel that as a G7 it properly represents what’s going on in the world.”
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