The pandemic and the twin crisis of economic recession dominated the first day of the two-day virtual summit of the top 20 industrial and emerging-market countries. It concludes Sunday under host Saudi Arabia.
“We have a duty to rise to the challenge together during this summit and give a strong message of hope and reassurance,” King Salman said as he opened the summit.
The king’s comments were made as global coronavirus cases approached 58 million and worldwide COVID-19 deaths neared 1.4 million, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The G-20 leaders are concerned that the pandemic will further widen the divide between rich and poor. To combat that, the European Union urged contributions totaling $4.5 billion to Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, a global project to speed up the development and distribution of vaccines, tests and treatment, according to the World Health Organization.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman opened the Group of 20 summit Saturday by calling on member countries to reassure the global community of affordable and equitable access to vaccines. By the end of the first day, they had.
"We will spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members’ commitments to incentivize innovation," the leaders said in a draft G20 communique seen by Reuters. "We recognize the role of extensive immunization as a global public good."
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged more than 500 million euros (nearly $593 million USD). Russia’s President Vladimir Putin offered Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, and China offered to cooperate on vaccines.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who has not made many public appearances since losing the presidential election earlier this month, attended the summit virtually. He tweeted about unfounded voter fraud in the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election during King Salman’s remarks before leaving to play golf at his club in nearby northern Virginia.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said he spoke of the need to work together to restore economic growth, but she did not mention a U.S. pledge to support the global distribution of a vaccine in a summary released late Saturday.
After Trump left the virtual meeting, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who also attended, said in a Treasury Department statement that the 7-month-old Debt Service Suspension Initiative “is a key achievement of the G-20 in response to the pandemic.” The initiative aims to help the world’s poorest countries grapple with the consequences of the pandemic until the middle of next year.
Treasury’s statement also said the G-20’s Common Framework would help the poorest countries address pandemic-induced debt problems “by coordinating sovereign debt resolution if needed.”
The summit is being held mostly online for the first time this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As expected, participants are discussing the impact of the coronavirus on the world economy and reviewing ways to stimulate economic recovery and growth.
Putin, whose speech was not carried live on Saudi TV, was reported by Saudi media to have called for a "coronavirus vaccine available to all."
Putin also stressed that "the virus has upset the world economy, causing an unprecedented crisis that created famine in parts of the world, as well as an increase in unemployment and poverty, which are the biggest threats to humanity today."
In an unusual step, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV broadcast British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's introductory comments in English.
"This has been an unprecedented year — the greatest upheaval many of us will face in our lifetimes," he said. "Unfortunately, circumstances have meant that we couldn't meet in Saudi Arabia. It's only by joining forces and working together that we will defeat coronavirus and build back better from this crisis."
Turkish President Reccip Tayyip Erdogan's comments were distributed to Arab media, with subtitles. He said, "Decisions stemming from the summit would be decisive for minimizing the negative effects of COVID-19 for the world and in responding to the world's expectations."
Observers say it is possible that during the economic summit, some of the world’s leaders will confront the meeting’s host, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, over the murder of writer Jamal Khashoggi, who was reported to have been killed in Turkey by Saudi agents.
G-20 member countries include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
They represent, according to the group’s website “around 80% of the world’s economic output, two-thirds of global population and three-quarters of international trade.”