Ramaphosa arrives in France for G7 summit amid major global tensions

The president is hoping to make progress in the discussion towards eliminating poverty, but the US-China trade war is likely to dominate.

President Cyril Ramaphosa arrived in Biarritz, France, on Sunday to participate in a G7 Summit “focused on the elimination of inequalities of various kinds globally”, the presidency confirmed in a statement.

The G7 comprises France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, whose government leaders meet annually to discuss important global economic, political, social and security issues.

Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko said Ramaphosa was invited to this year’s G7 Summit by President Emmanuel Macron of France.

“The summit is structured into three tracks: G7 and Africa Partnership (South Africa, Rwanda, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Senegal and the Chair of the African Union Commission); G7 and four Biarritz Partners (South Africa, India, Australia and Chile), and G7 and all partners.”

She said the working visit would also provide a platform for Ramaphosa and members of cabinet to invite global partners to experience South Africa as an investment destination and trade partner, and to “participate in the country’s efforts to secure faster, sustainable and inclusive economic growth and reduce unemployment”.

The summit would “deliberate on all manifestations of inequality – social, economic, environmental and in other dimensions – globally”.

It was expected to produce a range of declarations that would form the basis of action plans for addressing the challenges and embracing opportunities identified during the Biarritz deliberations.

Ramaphosa was accompanied by Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor and Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

Fractious summit

The Amazon rainforest fires and global growth fears are high on the agenda at what is set to be a fractious summit.

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

Here are the main topics and expected key moments to watch during the three-day gathering at the Hotel du Palais, a majestic venue overlooking the Atlantic that has undergone a $66-million facelift ahead of the summit.

Fire in the Amazon

Macron has said the G7 should hold emergency talks on the wildfires ravaging the Amazon, taking the lead in piling pressure on Brazil’s far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro.

The 41-year-old French president wants an agreement on “concrete measures”, which could include steps to halt industrialised deforestation and raising funds for reforesting burned areas, for example.

“We are going to try and mobilise everyone to raise funding for reforestation as quickly as possible,” Macron told French news site Konbini.

He and Irish leader Leo Varadkar have both pledged to block a new trade deal between the EU and Latin American trading bloc Mercosur, which includes Brazil.

The Trump riptide

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

Trump blew up last year’s G7 summit in Quebec, plunging into a bitter row with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and refusing to sign the group’s traditional joint declaration.

“Every time President Trump comes to Europe we notice increasing Twitter activity and it is not always EU or member-state friendly,” a senior EU official said ahead of the summit. “We are concerned.”

This year, the French scrapped the idea of a joint statement, hoping Trump would arrive with a deal-making disposition.

But before leaving, Trump seemed to be bruising for a fight, taking a potshot at France with threats to tax its wine “like they’ve never seen before” over a move to slap a sales tax on tech giants like Facebook, Apple and Google.

Iranian crisis

The Iran nuclear crisis will figure prominently, with Macron attempting to ease tensions between Tehran and Washington, triggered by Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” via crippling sanctions.

Speaking to AFP in Paris, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the French leader’s suggestions for defusing the crisis were “moving in the right direction”.

He said Macron would discuss possibilities with European and other partners “to see where we can go from here”.

European powers want Washington to offer Iran some sort of relief, such as lifting sanctions on oil sales to China and India, as a first step towards getting Tehran back to the negotiating table.

The Hong Kong protests, wars in Syria and Ukraine, as well as tensions in divided Kashmir will also feature, with India’s Hindu nationalist premier Narendra Modi attending the summit on Sunday.

Adverse trade winds

Fears have grown in recent weeks about the health of the global economy as a result of the ongoing trade war between the US and China.

Export-dependent Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, is teetering on the edge of recession and global financial markets took fright again on Thursday after a fresh Trump tirade against China.

The US leader continues to threaten European companies with trade tariffs, including Germany’s car industry and France’s wine sector.

Last month, he promised “substantial reciprocal action” after French MPs backed a new law imposing a sales taxes on US digital giants such as Google and Facebook.

“The president will raise the highly discriminatory digital service tax that France has decided upon,” a US official told reporters this week.

Brexit backwash

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

Trump says he is eager to see Johnson 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 signs of how Johnson intends to try to broker a deal before the October 31 deadline for Brexit, with the issue of Irish border still seen as an immovable obstacle.

With the issue at an impasse, the prospect of Britain crashing out of the bloc looks increasingly likely — which experts warn would cause economic damage to both Britain and the EU.

Protest swell

Every G7 meeting draws protests from anti-globalisation activists, and this year, they are gathering in Hendaye, down the coast, for a counter-summit which organisers hope will draw up to 10,000 people.

France has mobilised 13,000 officers to safeguard the summit, and the first clashes erupted late Friday with 17 people arrested and four police hurt.

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