CARBIS BAY, England (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson greeted world leaders on a wooden boardwalk atop the freshly raked sand of Carbis Bay to open the Group of Seven summit Friday , offering elbow bumps to dignitaries gathering for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus was set to dominate their discussions, with leaders of the wealthy democracies club expected to commit to sharing at least 1 billion vaccine shots with struggling countries.
A commitment from U.S. President Joe Biden to share 500 million doses and one from Johnson for another 100 million shots set the stage for the G-7 meeting under gray skies in southwest England, where leaders will pivot Friday from their “family photo” by the seaside directly into a session on “Building Back Better From COVID-19.”
“We’re going to help lead the world out of this pandemic working alongside our global partners,” Biden said. The G-7 also includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
The leaders hope the meeting in the resort of Carbis Bay will also energize the global economy. Despite the moody skies, the group walked away after their photo as cheerful as children who had just built a sand castle. Led by Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron threw his arm around Biden’s shoulder. Conversations were animated, if inaudible.
On Friday, they are set to formally embrace a global minimum tax of at least 15% on multinational corporations, following an agreement reached a week ago by their finance ministers. The minimum is meant to stop companies from using tax havens to shift profits and to avoid taxes.
It represents a potential win for the Biden administration, which has proposed a global minimum tax as a way to pay for infrastructure projects, in addition to creating an alternative that could remove some European countries’ digital services taxes that largely hit U.S. tech firms. But the endorsement from the G-7 is just one step in the process; the hope is to get many more countries to sign on — a fraught proposal in nations whose economies are based on attracting business with low corporate taxes.
For Johnson, the first G-7 summit in two years — last year’s was scuttled by the pandemic — is a chance to set out his vision of a post-Brexit “Global Britain” as a midsized country with an outsized role in international problem solving.
It’s also an opportunity to underscore the U.K-U.S. bond, an alliance often called the “special relationship” — but that Johnson said he prefers to call the “indestructible relationship.”
Climate change is also a top issue on the agenda, and hundreds of protesters gathered in Cornwall to urge the leaders to take action. Demonstrators deployed a barge off the coast with two large inflatable figures depicting Biden and Johnson on board. At another protest, demonstrators carried flags that read “G-7 drowning in promises” and “Action not words.”
The official summit business kicked off Friday, with the customary formal greeting and a socially distanced group photo. Later the leaders will meet Queen Elizabeth II and other senior royals at the Eden Project, a lush, domed eco-tourism site built in a former quarry.
The G-7 leaders have faced mounting pressure to outline their global vaccine-sharing plans, especially as inequities in supply around the world have become more pronounced. In the U.S., there is a large vaccine stockpile and the demand for shots has dropped precipitously in recent weeks.
Biden said the U.S. will donate 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses and previewed a coordinated effort by the advanced economies to make vaccination widely and speedily available everywhere. The commitment was on top of 80 million doses Biden has already pledged to donate by the end of June.
Johnson, for his part, said the first 5 million U.K. doses would be shared in the coming weeks, with the remainder coming over the next year. He said he expected the G-7 to commit to 1 billion doses in all.