G7 Biarritz 2019: Defusing risks, strengthening ties


Disclaimer: Aequitas has worked closely with The Elysee, the African Development Bank and Angelique Kidjo for the launch of the AFAWA initiative (Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa). 

The G7 has traditionally been seen as a flashy gathering of leaders of the seven most developed nations to align on policy, trade, and foreign affairs. However, in today’s globalised world, collaboration and cooperation are being increasingly challenged. The aggregate gross domestic product (GDP) of G7 member states for instance, makes up nearly 50 percent of the global economy in nominal terms, down from nearly 70 percent three decades ago. The economic contribution of the G7 is declining, a clear indicator of the rise of other emerging global powers. 

The suggestion that the G7 is no longer as influential is supported by many analysts as they argue a need for a more representative group of countries, for a more inclusive model. 

Challenges to the global order

Gender inequalities, climate crisis, trade wars and the trajectory of the global economy were on the agenda of this Summit. Peace and security took a particular turn, with the surprise visit of Iranian foreign minister Zarif. French officials sought to bill the meeting as important to "refine Iranian propositions", to help defuse the crisis after G7 leaders had discussed Iran over dinner on Saturday.

G7 leaders also committed to respond to worsening inequalities within their respective countries, to take action for peace, against security threats and terrorism, to improve responses to the crises and conflicts which undermine the foundations of society. Also, to combat global inequality, by forging new partnerships with Africa and launching an initiative for the Sahel, where all the continent’s challenges intersect.

Empowerment and inclusivity

President Macron also invited African nations to the summit: South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Senegal, and Rwanda, and his pivot to Africa was another example of fostering greater inclusivity at the G7.

Inclusivity was indeed at the forefront of this year’s G7 meeting in Biarritz, as witnessed by the involvement of the civil society and other major democracies, beyond the usual behind closed doors meeting between Heads of State and Government. 

By advocating for a renewed partnership with Africa, President Macron sent a strong signal for the world to side with Africa as it will play a bigger role on the global stage in the upcoming years. 

President Macron also wished to identify effective tools to ensure sustainable economic development, foster the creation of jobs for young people and women’s entrepreneurship. Access to education and health, which are essential conditions to combat inequality of opportunity, digital inclusion, and access to finance were central to the G7 discussions with African partners.

For instance, women make up at least 40% of the workforce in more than 80 countries. However, about a third of women worldwide do not have access to credit. In Africa, this problem affects up to two thirds of women. When a woman wants to start or grow her own business, the odds of securing a business loan are heavily stacked against her. Statistics show that about 77% of African women-owned businesses with credit needs are either unserved or underserved. This is equivalent to a massive $42 billion financing gap for African women alone.

The African Development Bank’s AFAWA initiative is a direct response to the need to ease access to women’s credit and boost economic empowerment.

During a press conference on Sunday 25th August, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that G7 leaders would financially back the AFAWA initiative, and directly support women entrepreneurs in Africa. 

We have to carry the voice of African women, support their ambitions, encourage their formidable entrepreneurship spirit. African women are the backbone of the continent. I’m thrilled to bring their voice to the G7. AFAWA is essential for our continent. We have to join forces to carry this message further, from Cotonou to Kigali, Lagos to Maputo, and beyond: Investing in African women is investing in the future!”, said Beninese artist Angelique Kidjo, a guest at the press conference. 

Beyond Biarritz

While this edition of the G7 has been quite progressive in terms of formats and initiatives, there were still a few blind spots. Critics have noted that there was no solid commitment to any particular course of action, and in absence of neither agreed agenda nor communiqué, it is difficult to assess to what extent leaders can be held accountable.

Immediately after the Biarritz G7, Japan followed up on President Macron’s agenda. The 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) was held in Yokohama on 28th –30th August. The main themes discussed during the conference were the promotion of peace, universal health coverage, private investment and human resources development. This has been seen as a conscious effort to counter China’s monopoly in Africa, in line with the growing involvement of India on the continent.

Although Russia is no longer a part of the G7, it seems to also have an agenda of its own in Africa, with the first Africa-Russia summit to be held on 24th of October in Sochi, a traditional venue for Vladimir Putin’s shows of force. 

Ultimately, the true challenges are yet to come, as the US is set to take over the G7 presidency next year. 

The big question remains: what’s next?

Sophie Campbell