World leaders gather for G7 summit in France

World leaders are gathering in France for the G7 summit, a meeting that European Council President Donald Tusk said will be a “difficult test of unity and solidarity of the free world and its leaders”.

The annual gathering of the G7 nations, some of the world’s key industrial countries, is set to begin on Saturday in the French coastal town of Biarritz.

Thousands of anti-G7 protesters rallied in the nearby town of Hendaye as leaders from Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States descended on Biarritz. 

The three-day summit comes amid sharp differences over a range of global issues including trade and climate change. It is also taking place against the backdrop of an escalating trade war between the US and China, Britain’s impending exit from the European Union, growing tensions between US and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear programme and global concern over illegal fires ravaging the Amazon rain forest in Brazil.

Speaking before the summit, Tusk appealed for unity.

“It is increasingly difficult, for all of us, to find common language and the world needs more of our cooperation, not less,” he said. “This may be the last moment to restore our political community.” 

G7 Summit: Divisions expected at global meet (2:27)

French President Emmanuel Macron, host of this year’s summit, said he wants the wants the heads of G7 nations to focus on the defence of democracy, gender equality, education and the environment.

In a televised speech before the summit, Macron said he hoped to find common ground with US President Donald Trump, who acrimoniously ended last year’s G7 meeting in Canada, leaving the gathering and rejecting the final communique, an agreed upon statement released by all members. 

Shortly after Trump’s arrival, Macron hosted him for a two-hour unscheduled lunch. 

“So far, so good,” Trump told reporters, hailing his friendship with Macron. “We’ll accomplish a lot this weekend and I look forward to it.”

Macron listed foreign policy issues the two would address, including Libya, Syria and North Korea, adding that they shared the same objective of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Trade wars

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Biarritz, said the working lunch was an attempt by Macron to get Trump “on the same page”. 

“To have him here first, before any of the other leaders, try to get him on the same page. President Macron has seen what’s happened at previous G7 summits. He’s seen what president Trump can do,” he said. 

Another reason could be the escalation in trade disputes between France and US, said Bays. 

Hours before leaving for Biarritz, Trump had lashed out at France for what he said were “unfair” taxes on US tech companies like Google and Amazon, and  threatened to tax French wine “like they’ve never seen before”.

France currently imposes a three percent tax on digital revenues of large Internet-based firms and Macron plans to defend a proposal for a global tax law on big tech at the summit.

g7 pic 3

French President Emmanuel Macron met first with US President Donald Trump, who last year acrimoniously left the G7 summit in Canada. [Marin Ludovic/Reuters]

Trump also upped his trade fight with China by raising retaliatory tariffs and ordering US companies to consider alternatives to doing business there.

Attention will also be on Boris Johnson, who will be making his G7 debut as the prime minister of Britain. Johnson is under intense pressure to pull Britain out of the EU and many see his relationship with the US as key. 

“My message to G7 leaders this week is this: the Britain I lead will be an international, outward-looking, self-confident nation,” Johnson said in prepared remarks released by Downing Street before his departure. “We will be an energetic partner on the world stage. We will stand alongside our G7 allies to solve the most pressing international issues.”

As he arrived in France, Johnson said that global trade, the environment and women’s education will be his “three obsessions” over the days of meetings. 

Macron also invited Asian, African and Latin American leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Egyptian President  Abdel Fattah el-Sisi  and Chilean president Sebastian Pinera, to join what he describes as a global push on these issues.

China’s President Xi Jinping is not among the Asian leaders invited to Biarritz. China said on Saturday it strongly opposed Trump’s decision to levy additional tariffs on $550bn worth of Chinese goods and warned the US of consequences if it did not end its “wrong actions”.

Anti-G7 protests

As the world leaders arrived, protesters converged on Hendaye, about 35km from Biarritz, to demand accountability on various issues including the environment, globalisation, gay rights, Palestinian rights and independence for the Catalonia region in Spain.

Representatives from the more-local “yellow vest” movement, which began in France in November of 2018 with mass demonstrations over government taxes on fuel, were also out in force to protest inequality.

“The top capitalist leaders are here and we have to show them that the fight continues,” Alain Missana, 48, an electrician wearing a yellow vest, told the Reuters news agency.

“It’s more money for the rich and nothing for the poor. We see the Amazonian forests burning and the arctic melting. The leaders will hear us,” he said.

g7 pic 1

Protesters gathered in the French town of Hendaye to a Spanish town near to the G7 summit venue. [Stephane Mahe/Reuters]

More than 13,000 police officers, backed by soldiers, guarded the summit site.

Police feared that anarchist groups may try to derail Saturday’s protest, which had been billed as a peaceful, family event.

Four police officers were lightly wounded on Friday after protesters fired a homemade mortar near the anti-G7 counter summit in Hendaye. Police had also arrested 17 people for hiding their faces.

Read the full article at: aljazeera.com