G20 LEADERS UNITED TO ADDRESS MAJOR GLOBAL PANDEMIC AND ECONOMIC CHALLENGES
By Alex Pollock
Discussions on how to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and deal with the global economic damage it has wrought dominated the Group of 20 Summit, which began on Saturday (21 November) and was hosted virtually by Saudi Arabia. In private sessions, heads of state of the world’s 19 richest countries and the European Union spoke about how to ensure the equal distribution of vaccines and potential debt relief for poor countries hit hard by the virus. (The New York Times)
The 2020 Summit
This year’s G20 Summit was held virtually and hosted by 2020 G20 president Saudi Arabia. At the top of the agenda for the world leaders were the issues of how to ensure equal access to COVID-19 treatments and vaccines and how to help struggling economies emerge from crippling debt. This year, along with the main summit meeting, leaders took part in a side event, “Pandemic Preparedness and Response”, to find a way to collectively fight the surging pandemic.
Earlier this year, the G20 countries held an emergency meeting to discuss extending the repayment period for several countries that were struggling to handle economic decline caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In the official meeting, held 21-22 November, the leaders once again discussed the need for economic relief for developing nations and agreed upon another six-month extension of the repayment period. So far this year, 44 countries (out of the 73 eligible countries) have received $5 billion in immediate debt relief.
The ‘Debt Service Suspension Initiative’ (DSSI) – a joint effort between the G20 nations and the Paris Club (a group of 22 government creditors) – was initiated in April to decrease the economic burden of developing countries. The current extension will suspend debts until 30 June 2021. Both the G20 and Paris Club have agreed to revisit the possibility of a third extension if the economic situation has not improved by 30 June. Members of both parties agreed a suspension of debt alone would not be enough to efficiently curb the economic effects of COVID-19, so they introduced the ‘Common Framework for Debt Treatments’ that would reschedule or reduce the debt owed in conjunction with the suspension.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his concern over the fate of several African countries, proposing several additional measures, including interest payment waivers and deferred payments. He called on the G20 member states, multilateral development banks, and private-sector creditors to work together to avoid launching developing countries into “deep humanitarian crises.”
Despite the G20 leaders’ praise of the early impact of DSSI, with help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), several private lenders have not yet suspended payments. However, private creditors have claimed that no indebted countries have requested payment suspensions, possibly due to the concern of being downgraded by the credit agencies if they request debt assistance. Multilateral development agencies, such as the World Bank, expressed concern over the potential of losing their high credit ratings if they participate in a programme like DSSI.
The other main topic of discussion at this year’s summit was the development and deployment of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. The day before the summit began, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all G20 leaders to play a part in actively ensuring the vaccines will be equally available to poorer nations as they will be to richer nations. He estimated it would take an additional $28 billion dollars to ensure developing nations would have adequate storage and distribution of the treatments. So far, $10 billion has been raised. Mr Guterres called for each G20 nation to consider how much they could contribute. He said: “This funding is critical for mass manufacturing, procurement and delivery of new Covid-19 vaccines and tools around the world. G20 countries have the resources.”
Mr Ramaphosa again spoke up in these discussions urging G20 members to invest substantially in the ‘Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator Initiative’ (ACT-A), a joint initiative started by low and middle-income countries to finance access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and tests. The initiative needs an immediate $4.5 billion to bridge the funding gap that will allow for the distribution of the vaccine to poorer nations. European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen predicted the funding gap to be much bigger, saying the need is closer to $5 billion. The funding would go towards the purchase and distribution of COVAX vaccines. COVAX is a joint venture between several countries to develop and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine. “As of 2 November, 94 high-income countries have confirmed their participation in COVAX as well as 92 middle- and low-income countries. The objective is to purchase 2 billion doses by the end of 2021 for the low- and middle-income countries,” Ms von der Leyen said.
Multiple countries have claimed to have vaccines that are around 90% effective, and several have offered to share those vaccines with lower-income nations. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to provide the Sputnik V vaccine to other nations, and claimed Moscow is working on developing a second and third vaccine. China and France also voiced their intention to provide equal access to treatment, “at all costs.” French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated this when he told the summit: “We need to avoid at all costs a scenario of a two-speed world where only the rich can protect themselves against the virus and restart normal lives.”
Talks also centred around the need to be better prepared in the future for potential pandemics. The EU proposed the development of a treaty on pandemics that would allow faster and more efficient cooperation between nations when another pandemic occurs.
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
It is greatly encouraging to see the lengths to which G20 leaders are willing to go to look out for the wellbeing of all nations, and not purely their own. The suspension of debt for another six months will significantly improve developing nations’ ability to combat the ongoing economic crisis that has been brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. These debt suspensions will enable developing nations to use their limited resources to provide for their countries’ most pressing needs instead of having to pay it to the lending nations that are not as hard-pressed.
The Bible is very clear in its instruction to lend to the needy. Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11 states: “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward them. Rather, be open-handed and freely lend them whatever they need… Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this, the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be open-handed toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”
Even during the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:42, Jesus states: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” But Deuteronomy 15 does not only address the necessity to lend to the poor, but it also addresses the need to cancel debt. Deuteronomy 15:1-2 states: “At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for cancelling debts has been proclaimed.”
Although this text specifically talks about the people of God cancelling each other’s debt, the testimony that will flow from a believer cancelling a non-believer’s debt would be even greater. Under the current economic climate, it is clear to see that the worldly method of suspended debt, as wonderful as it is, is not the long-term solution. The only way developing nations will survive is by means of the Biblical system of cancelling debt. Thirteen of the G20 members are Christian-majority nations. It would be an incredible testimony to the other members, if the Christian nations stood up for a cancellation of debt, instead of a suspension of debt, the next time they met.
God has allowed this specific set of nations to interact for a particular outcome and we can trust that God’s providence is at work through both Christian and non-Christian rulers. This truth is beautifully explained in 1 Chron 21:12 where we read: “Wealth and honour come from You alone, for You rule over everything. Power and might are in Your hand, and at Your discretion, people are made great and given strength.”
May the nations serve the Lord our God with their finances and skills in such a time as this, and for the expansion of His Kingdom
Please pray with us:
- For continued cooperation between world powers to advance the economic and social stability of nations affected by COVID-19
- For the planned economic relief to have a significant impact on the financial health of nations most affected by COVID-related downturns
- For the Christian-majority nations within the G20 to demonstrate Godly attitudes and Christ-like principles towards nations in need, as a testimony to other nations
Image: REUTERS/Bander Algaloud