By Crispian Balmer and Humeyra Pamuk
MATERA, Italy – G20 foreign ministers called on Tuesday for multilateral cures for global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate emergency at their first face-to-face meeting in two years.
The one-day gathering in the heat-soaked southern city of Matera focused on how to improve cooperation, revive the world’s economy following the pandemic and boost development in Africa.
“The pandemic has highlighted the need for an international response to emergencies that transcend national boundaries,” Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told the ministers from the Group of 20 major economies.
The G20 members account for more than 80% of world gross domestic product, 75% of global trade and 60% of the population of the planet. Those in Matera included the top diplomats of the United States, Japan, Britain, France, Germany and India.
However, the foreign ministers of China, Brazil and Australia opted to follow the discussions by video link, while Russia and South Korea sent deputy ministers.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he regretted the absence of direct counterparts from Beijing and Moscow. “When you get together, you also have to talk to each other. We need dialogue with Russia and China,” he said during a break.
Heading into the meeting, Maas said he would raise his unhappiness at the way he thought China and Russia had offered COVID vaccines to boost their standing with certain countries.
“(This) is not about achieving short-term geostrategic advantages,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated the need to deliver many more vaccines to poorer countries, which have so far received far fewer doses than wealthy nations.
“To bring the pandemic to an end, we must get more vaccines to more places,” he said, adding that the G20 would help low-income countries address “significant debt vulnerabilities’ that had been exacerbated by the coronavirus.
Blinken was due to fly back to Washington later on Tuesday, ending a tour of Germany, France and Italy, during which he has underlined the desire of President Joe Biden’s administration to embrace international cooperation, in contrast to previous President Donald Trump, who touted an “America First” message.
“We need to cooperate, and we need to do it effectively. Multilateralism is what makes that possible,” Blinken said in his remarks to the conference, surrounded by perspex sheeting to prevent any possible infection from fellow delegates.
Italy, which is home to the U.N. food and agriculture agencies, invited development ministers to attend the meeting and pushed global food security to the forefront.
Given the broad range of countries in the G20, getting agreement can be difficult, but analysts said the fact the ministers had resumed in-person meetings and were rallying to the cry for greater cooperation was important.
“It is difficult to expect concrete results from Matera,” said Antonio Villafranca, director of studies at the Milan-based Institute of International Policy Studies.
“But reaffirming multilateral commitment and understanding on those issues that states could converge on, in a climate of growing international tensions, would already be a result that should not to be underestimated.”