01/11/2021

Arms, gas and steel take up more space at G-20 than climate or vaccines

2 min
Russian President Vladimir Putin during a session of the G20 summit of world leaders via teleconference in Moscow

The G-20 meeting held in Rome prior to Glasgow's Climate Summit has left some important images that reflect the moment of instability that the post-pandemic world is living. On the one hand, the most notable were the physical absences of both Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, and Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, who took part and participated virtually but who were, in fact, at the centre of some of the conflicts, political but mainly economic, that dominated this summit.

In the case of China, it is the secondary protagonist in the conflict between France and the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, as it is its growing military presence in the Pacific and its various disputes over territorial waters with its neighbours that initially prompted Australia to break the agreement it had with the French to join the AUKUS alliance, which will provide it with nuclear submarines. This low blow to French industry and the rejection of Europe was a common thread running through the meeting.

The problem of energy shortages in Europe also loomed large, and here the new Russian pipeline, Nord Stream 2, defended above all by Germany, is making the Americans very nervous, as they see it as a weapon that Putin can use to subdue the EU. They made this point as recently as Saturday by claiming that another Russian pipeline further south had diverted some of the gas to other eastern countries rather than to Europe, which they saw as a show of force and which has been denied by Gazprom.

Russia has also been in the background of bilateral talks between the United States and Turkey, because while Recep Tayyip Erdogan is keen on buying F16 planes, Joe Biden is uncomfortable with the fact that the Turkish army has bought anti-missile shields from the Russians.

The good news of the day seems to have been the truce signed by the United States and the European Union regarding the tariffs that Trump imposed in 2018 on European exports of steel and aluminum. This agreement, however, does not affect all exports and specifies that it has to be European steel, to prevent the large amount of Chinese steel that reaches the EU from sneaking in. For the time being, according to Reuters, the tariff on a total of 3.3 billion tonnes has been withdrawn, and in exchange the EU is extending the moratorium on taxes on American products such as bourbon and peanut butter for two years while a new agreement is negotiated.

The economy and the pacts to isolate China and Russia have been, therefore, two of the diplomatic axes of the agenda that Joe Biden is deploying these days in Europe. He is taking with him, however, the already agreed commitment to establish a minimum of 15% for corporate tax on a global scale, in principle as of 2023

The other major pending issues, however, the most important ones because they affect the future and the world as a whole, have so far remained just fine words. Solemnly announced commitments on the climate crisis or on facilitating access to vaccines against covid-19 in poor countries have coexisted with the increasingly thick shadow of a trade war that seems to become more militarised the longer it goes on.