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Tuesday Aug 20 2019

What to watch at the G7 in surfers' paradise Biarritz


PARIS: The leaders of the world's richest countries will gather in the famed surfing town of Biarritz in southwest France on Saturday, worried by headwinds for the global economy and grappling with their own stark divisions.

French host Emmanuel Macron is hoping skilled diplomacy, as well as sea air and sunshine at the holiday destination, will help ease tensions between the members of the elite club.

Picture shows G7 logo next to French and European flags ahead of the 45th Group of Seven nations annual summit in Biarritz.—AFP photo

Here are the main topics and expected key moments during the three days of talks amid the Old World charm of the luxury Hotel du Palais, which overlooks crashing Atlantic waves.

The Trump riptide

The US president makes or breaks international meetings, depending on his mood and the content of his Twitter account.

The last meeting of the G7 – which comprises the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada – turned into a fiasco when Trump refused to put his name to a joint statement at the end.

He left the summit in Quebec in June 2018 accusing his host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, of being "very dishonest and weak".

This year, the French have scrapped the idea of a joint statement – seen as an admission of lowered ambitions – but will hope Trump arrives with a deal-making, not summit-wrecking, disposition.

"The format and even the existence of the G7 are in question because it used to be the place where the old West could speak frankly," former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta, now head of international affairs at Sciences Po university in Paris, told AFP.

Global turbulence

The Iranian nuclear crisis, protests in Hong Kong, war in Syria and fresh tensions in the violence-wracked Kashmir region will all be on the agenda when the leaders arrive on Saturday.

India's Hindu nationalist premier Narendra Modi has been invited to join the summit and is expected to explain in person his decision to revoke the autonomy of Indian Occupied Kashmir, which has raised tensions with neighbour Pakistan.

The Iran nuclear crisis will also figure prominently, with Trump's policy of "maximum pressure" on Tehran via crippling sanctions seen as raising the risk of conflict in the Middle East.

European powers are urging the US administration to offer some sort of relief to Iran, such as lifting sanctions on oil sales to China and India, or a new credit line to enable exports.

This is seen as a first step to get Iran back to the negotiating table, which could then lead to a new international agreement limiting its nuclear programme that would include the United States.

"To start this approach we need President Trump to agree with the idea that we need to make a pause (in the "maximum pressure" policy)," a French diplomat told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Adverse trade winds

Fears have grown in recent weeks about the health of the global economy caused by a trade war between the United States and China.

Export-dependent Germany, the economic powerhouse of the European Union, is teetering on the edge of recession and global financial markets took fright last week following alarming new economic data.

Trump meanwhile continues to threaten European companies with trade tariffs, including the German car industry and the French wine sector.

At the end of July, he promised "a substantial reciprocal action on Macron's foolishness" after the French parliament approved a new law that will impose new sales taxes on digital giants such as Google and Facebook.

Brexit backwash

One of the key images of the summit will emerge from the first meeting between Trump and new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who will be making his debut appearance as leader on the international stage.

Trump has said he is eager to meet Johnson, a fellow populist maverick and rightwinger who is looking for close relations with the US – and a trade deal – as he prepares to take Britain out of the EU.

Reporters will also look for feedback on Johnson's meetings this week in Paris and Berlin with Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel where he is expected to lay out his tough negotiating position on Brexit.

The two sides look deadlocked, raising the prospect of Britain crashing out of the bloc on October 31 without a deal.

Europe watchers are also wondering who will show up to represent Italy amid a fresh political crisis there.

Protest swell

Every G7 meeting draws protests from anti-globalisation activists, climate change campaigners and left-wing anarchists who see global leaders and their free-market capitalist model as the source of global problems.

A G7 counter-summit of conferences and workshops is set to begin on Wednesday along the coast near the town of Hendaye organised by the group "G7 Ez", which means "No to the G7" in the local Basque language, and other groups.

They expect 5,000 to 10,000 people at their temporary camp.

More than 10,000 members of the French security forces will be deployed to guard against violent protests, while surfers and swimmers will be ordered out of the water in Biarritz for the duration of the summit.

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