MATERA – A meeting of foreign and development ministers from the Group of 20 nations Tuesday ended with agreement to boost efforts to fight growing hunger in the world, worsened by the pandemic, especially in Africa, as well as climate change effects.
But there were also notes of discord, with Germany and China taking jabs at each other over vaccine policy for developing countries.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, who hosted the meeting, argued that assistance projects in Africa will also affect migration from the continent to Europe.
“The G-20 has the duty to sustain Africa in emerging from a difficult period,” he said at a closing news conference.
“We must do it in a way so that in Africa, people aren’t forced any more to abandon their country and their territory, and I don’t think anyone can carry out this battle alone,” said Di Maio, who announced that Italy would host a conference in October in Rome focused on Africa.
Di Maio said that hunger on the planet has been increasing since 2014 and warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could add another 100 million people to the ranks of the hungry and malnourished. "Clearly one of the first steps to build a better world is to make sure everyone is fed,'' he said.
The one-day gathering yielded the so-called Matera Declaration, a “call to action” on food security, nutrition and food systems. Matera is a picturesque southern hilltop city in Italy's underdeveloped Basilicata region hosting the talks.
In the declaration, the ministers concurred that “advancing these goals requires the collective and coordinated leadership and action at the global level and a people-centered approach,.”
"The G-20 is well positioned to provide such leadership, while promoting an inclusive approach with all stakeholders, private and public, and pursuing ambitious yet concrete and actionable programs,” the declaration reads.
The Group of 20 nations account for more than half the world's population and some 80% of its GDP.
The declaration also recognizes the need for "accelerating the adaptation of agriculture and food systems to climate change."'
“Beyond the differences and distances among some countries present at the G-20 table, we are all in agreement on climate change, sustainability, on the great issues that today can only be resolved with global cooperation,” Di Maio said.
But there were some sharp exchanges involving some of the major powers during the day.
Arriving, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it was “important that we sit together in this round with countries like Russia and China, and that we openly address the fact that we do not think much of their vaccine diplomacy.”
Maas was referring to China and Russia providing or selling their own produced vaccines to less developed countries, although some European countries, including Hungary and San Marino, were eager to get the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Some in the West believe China and Russia have been supplying their vaccines to poorer countries in order to bolster their power.
Neither China nor Russia sent their foreign ministers. China's minister, Wang Yi , addressed the meeting remotely and jabbed back at Maas.
China, he said, “has supplied more than 450 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to 100 countries.” The Chinese minister took a swipe at Western nations, adding that countries able to supply vaccines ought to ”avoid restrictions on exports and excessive hording" of vaccines,
“To bring the pandemic to an end, we must get more vaccine to more places,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the gathering. “Multilateral cooperation will be key to stop this global health crisis.”
Blinken took the occasion to tout U.S. contributions to COVAX, the U.N.-backed program to get vaccines to needy nations, which include around 500 million Pfizer doses and 80 million other doses.
Germany's Maas signaled urgency. “I think the main thing now is to quickly create alternatives so that countries, regions like Africa, for example, are able to be supplied with more vaccine more quickly,” he told AP. He suggested focusing on providing supply chains as well as production facilities.
The decision earlier this year by President Joe Biden's administration to return to the climate change fight and help lead it has heartened advocates pressing for urgent tackling of climate change threats. Last year, under the Trump administration, the United States became the only country to leave the 2015 agreement.
D'Emilio reported from Rome.