Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) countries gathered in Hiroshima, Japan, from 19-21 May, 2023 for a three-day summit in which they tried to unite on some of the world’s biggest challenges. Leaders from the United States (US), Canada, the United Kingdom(UK), Germany, France, Italy, and Japan—plus the European Union (EU) met in Hiroshima. G7 leaders addressed issues such as artificial intelligence, global economic governance, geopolitics, international security, food security and energy policy.
In 1975, the US, France, Italy, Japan, the UK, and West Germany formed the Group of Six (G6), initially to allow for non-communist powers to address areas of common concern. When Canada joined in 1976, it became the G7. With Russia’s admission in 1998, the G8 was formed, before reverting to the G7 in 2014 after the suspension of Russia due to its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Three decades ago, the contribution of G7 member states to global gross domestic product (GDP) was 70 percent. Today, that figure has fallen to roughly 44 percent. By comparison, the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa- account for about 32 percent of world GDP.
The BRICS are anticipated to account for more than 50 percent to global GDP by 2030.
Furthermore, while the G7 countries are home to just over 800 million people, the BRICS countries have a combined population of 3.24 billion people or 40 percent of the world’s population.
Meanwhile, in nearly half of G7 countries, populations are expected to consistently decline through to 2050 due to ageing populations and falling fertility rates. Of course, the population in BRICS nations such as China is declining but in others, such as India, there is expected to be consistent growth up to 2050.
Perhaps out of a recognition that economic, geopolitical and geographic headwinds are unfavourable to them, G7 leaders went on a charm offensive with some key members of the Global South at their recent summit. During the summit, G7 Leaders were joined by leaders of Brazil, Comoros, Cook Islands, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Writing for the Associated Press on 15th May, Kim and Yamaguchi suggested that the choice of guest nations at the G7 summit reflected worries over China and Russia. India for example has refused to criticize Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has also increased its imports of Russian oil, much to the chagrin of Western countries.
Prior to the G7 Summit, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was also relatively fresh from a visit to China, where he went to strengthen ties with his country’s biggest trading partner.
Some experts are increasingly questioning the G7’s relevance. In the main, its members are considered to be like minded, with common interests and common values. On the surface, these are not necessarily problematic but do suggest a lack of diversity and even a sense of exclusivity.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry has said that the G7 needs to cooperate with the Global South to address issues such as energy, food security, climate change, health and development issues. Without a doubt, it is in the interests of all countries to cooperate on all issues of global importance.
However, one wonders whether attempts by G7 nations to court the Global South are too little and too late. For sure, cooperation cannot only be on the terms of G7 countries and also should not be when it is convenient for them geopolitically and otherwise.
G7 members such as the US will continue to be major global players for a long time.
Furthermore, even with accusations of global retreat by the US, sometimes these are unfair assertions as the US remains far and above the single largest contributor to certain global efforts such as funding multilateral organisations and contributing to other efforts including global food aid.
Nonetheless, several parts of the world have felt let down by the rich countries. Efforts to reform the global financial architecture, finance climate change adaptation and mitigation and tackle debt, among others, seem to be wanting. G7 leaders will need to provide real leadership in these areas for their efforts to be deemed sufficient and timely.