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At G-7, Trump Dumps Climate But Agrees on Gender, Africa


President Donald Trump takes questions during a press conference on the third and final day of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Aug. 26, 2019.
President Donald Trump takes questions during a press conference on the third and final day of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Aug. 26, 2019.

At a contentious summit where the United States stood apart from allies on many issues, including the Amazon fires, Russian membership and the tariff war with China, U.S. President Donald Trump did agree to support several Group of Seven initiatives, despite reports that his administration considered them "niche issues."

A senior administration official confirmed to VOA that the Trump administration signed several consensus documents, particularly in the area of gender equality, partnership with Africa and digital transformation.

The United States did not sign on to a $20 million aid offer from the G-7 to help the government of Brazil fight the Amazon rainforest fires.

Trump also skipped the working session on oceans, climate, and biodiversity. Yet his administration did sign on to the Metz Charter on Biodiversity, a commitment to fight loss of biodiversity and tackle climate change that responds to recent warnings from scientists.

"While it is welcome news that the administration has agreed to sign on to the G-7's Metz charter on biodiversity, I am doubtful the statement carries much weight," said Whitley Saumweber, director of the Stephenson Ocean Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Saumweber said the charter "stands in glaring contrast" to the administration's climate actions and objectives, which include drilling in the Arctic, logging in Tongass National Forest, weakening the endangered species act and withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. "Those policies will accelerate habitat loss, resource overexploitation and climate change, all of which are driving biodiversity loss," he added.

The administration is also launching dozens of environmental rollback attempts that will undercut efforts by previous administrations to reduce emissions and climate change.

Tomas Carbonell of the Environmental Defense Fund calls the rollbacks a "series of deeply harmful attacks on some of our nation's most effective tools to fight climate change and protect health.”

Gender equality and empowerment

A notable area of common ground between the U.S. and G-7 counterparts is gender equality.

The administration signed on to the summit's Declaration on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment, which includes an appeal to better prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence, and encourage women's participation in conflict prevention and peace building.

It also signed on to the Biarritz Partnership on Gender Equality, which calls on all countries to make their laws more gender-equal, and urges the G-7 to implement a "feminist foreign policy" by making women empowerment a priority in development assistance.

The G-7 is well positioned to turn the tide on gender equality, but only if nations match their promises with a substantial increase in dollars, said Jamille Bigio a Senior Fellow at the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The question, then, is whether the United States will take on this challenge when it assumes the G-7 presidency next year," she added.

White House Advisor Ivanka Trump talks to women entrepreneurs, at the demonstration cocoa farm in Adzope, Ivory Coast, April 17, 2019.
White House Advisor Ivanka Trump talks to women entrepreneurs, at the demonstration cocoa farm in Adzope, Ivory Coast, April 17, 2019.

In supporting the partnership on gender equality, the Trump administration points to its Women's Global Development andProsperity (W-GDP) Initiative, which seeks to economically empower 50 million women across the developing world by 2025. The initiative is spear-headed by the president's daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump.

While analysts applaud that Ivanka Trump is continuing a long-standing U.S. policy to support gender equality world-wide, they point out to the fact that women's economic empowerment is closely tied to reproductive rights, an area where the Trump administration has restrictive policies.

While the hope is that G-7 nations will invest in broader measures to advance the status of women and girls, Bigio said that when the U.S. takes up the G-7 presidency next year, "the expectation is that they will only focus on women's economic empowerment."

The W-GDP has "a narrow focus because we want to make sure that it has tangible results" said a senior Trump administration official. "We want to make sure that it is focused on economic growth. So it does not dive into the important health issues across the developing world," she added.

Economic empowerment is "more politically feasible for this administration than other areas critical to women's lives like healthcare or protection from violence," Bigio said.

The administration has proposed significant cuts to aid and rolled out restrictive reproductive health policies around the world, including "the global gag rule," a Reagan administration policy that blocks U.S. federal funding for foreign non-governmental organizations that provide abortion counseling or referrals, advocate to decriminalize abortion, or expand abortion services.

All subsequent Republican administrations have enforced the rule and all Democratic administrations have rescinded it. In 2017 Trump expanded it so that even organizations that advocate for abortion with their own money are banned from U.S. global health funding.

Last March the administration expanded it even more. "We will refuse to provide assistance to foreign NGOs that give financial support to other foreign groups in the global abortion industry," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the announcement.

Sahel partnership

The Trump administration joined other G-7 leaders in the Sahel Partnership Action Plan and the Biarritz Declaration for a G-7 and Africa Partnership which seeks to economically develop the region and strengthen support for members' national security.

But critics say the administration's interest in Africa is seen as lacking overall.

"Africa tends to be at the bottom of the to do list for most administrations," said Judd Devermont, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But he added that the Trump administration is particularly less robust in terms of security and good governance, and is "singularly focused" on investment.

"Africa is the youngest continent in the world. It has the fastest growing urban populations, it is the fastest growing now in terms of connectivity," Devermont added.

National security adviser John Bolton talks to reporters about Venezuela, outside the White House, May 1, 2019.
National security adviser John Bolton talks to reporters about Venezuela, outside the White House, May 1, 2019.

In 2018, National Security Advisor John Bolton announced the administration's strategy for Africa which was aimed at improving economic ties between the U.S. and African partners. As part of the strategy, this past June the White House unveiled "Prosper Africa," an initiative the administration contrasted with China's practice of "predatory lending," which U.S. officials say can trap countries in piles of debt.

Critics of the administration say the outreach has not gone well.

"Many Africans have really rejected the strategy," said Devermont. "They felt it was about China. It wasn't about Africa. The way in which the administration talked about China made it sound like Africans have no agency, that Africans are being hoodwinked, or taken advantage of by the Chinese," he added.

The strategy is now presented as a method of engaging with African leaders and entrepreneurs, with less reference to Beijing.

Global impact

G-7 statements are not legally binding but they can have an impact on global governance, said Karoline Postel-Vinay, a research professor at the Paris-based institute Sciences Po.

Last year the G-7 in Canada produced a joint communique that Trump retracted. "So in that sense, the various statements of this year, constitute a progress in terms of consensus and therefore global impact," Postel-Vinay added.

Several times during this year's G-7 Trump dismissed that there are divisions with other leaders and highlighted "unity."

According to a senior administration official, these are the consensus documents the U.S. signed on to at the G-7 summit:

· G7 Leaders' Declaration

· Declaration on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment

· Biarritz Partnership on Gender Equality

· Sahel Partnership Action Plan

· Biarritz Declaration for a G7 and Africa Partnership

· Promoting Women's Entrepreneurship in Africa

· Digital Transformation in Africa

· Transparency in Public Procurement and the Common Fight Against Corruption

· Metz Charter on Biodiversity

· Biarritz Strategy for an Open, Free, and Secure Digital Transformation participation at the G-7 summit

*Editors note: A previous version of this story misidentified "Prosper Africa" as part of the administration's 2018 African strategy. The initiative was announced this past June.