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U.S. tells G7 that it is back at the table to help with global recovery

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By David Lawder and William Schomberg

WASHINGTON/LONDON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden‘s administration told allies on Friday it was re-engaging with them to help steer the global economy out of its worst slump since the Great Depression, a contrast with the go-it-alone approach of Donald Trump.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told her peers from the Group of Seven rich democracies that Washington was committed to multilateralism and “places a high priority on deepening our international engagement and strengthening our alliances.”

Yellen spoke to the G7 in a virtual video meeting, chaired by Britain, at which she called for continued fiscal support to secure the recovery, saying “the time to go big is now.”

Britain said officials discussed giving help to workers and businesses hit by the pandemic while ensuring sustainability of public finances “in the long term.”

As well as the United States and Britain, the G7 includes Japan, France, Germany, Italy and Canada.

Italian Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri said the group had committed to continuing coordinated action to support the economy. “The withdrawal of policy support is premature,” he wrote on Twitter.

Biden has proposed a further $1.9 trillion in spending and tax cuts on top of more than $4 trillion of coronavirus relief measures enacted by his predecessor Trump.

British finance minister Rishi Sunak is expected to say next month that he will extend his economic rescue programs and that reining in public finances will have to be addressed later.

Britain said G7 officials also agreed that making progress on reaching “an international solution to the tax challenges of the digital economy” was a key priority.

Countries have been trying to revive attempts at a global approach to taxing giant digital firms – many of them American, such as Amazon and Alphabet’s Google – after progress was blocked by Trump’s administration.

Britain called on G7 countries to agree a joint approach to taxing internet giants by mid-2021, a deadline agreed by the wider Group of 20 nations.

NEW IMF RESOURCES

Some G7 countries are keen to back a new issuance of the International Monetary Fund’s own currency, known as special drawing rights (SDRs), to help low-income countries hit by the coronavirus crisis, a step last taken in 2009.

Officials from the United States, the IMF’s biggest shareholder, had signaled they were open to a new issuance of $500 billion, sources said on Thursday – another Biden shift away from Trump administration opposition.

A G7 source, who asked not to be named, said the United States told other countries it needed a few weeks to finalize the SDR increase.

The move is politically tricky for Yellen because it would provide new resources to all IMF members, including rich countries, China, and U.S. adversaries such as Iran and Venezuela, drawing Republican opposition.

“Over the last year, the G7 has not even spoken about special drawing rights, so considering that was part of this agenda, it certainly is progress,” said Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA Network, a charity group that focuses on reducing poverty. “In terms of getting to a strong global stimulus, SDRs have to be a part of the equation.”

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva did not mention SDRs in a tweet about the meeting, but said that G7 members were in “full alignment” on vaccines, fiscal stimulus, climate and “comprehensive support for vulnerable countries.”

Sunak called on private creditors to give debt help to the poorest countries and said climate change and nature preservation would be priorities for Britain’s G7 presidency. Britain is due to host the first in-person summit of G7 leaders in nearly two years in June.

Yellen said the G7 should expect to see the U.S. Treasury’s engagement on climate change to “change dramatically relative to the last four years.”

The Treasury declined comment on a Wall Street Journal report that Yellen is considering Sarah Bloom Raskin, a former deputy Treasury secretary, for a new high-level climate “czar” position at the department.

 

(Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Rome and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Catherine Evans and Rosalba O’Brien)

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Muslim family truck attack given farewell with coffins draped in Canadian flags

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Several hundred mourners joined a public funeral service on Saturday to bid farewell to a Canadian Muslim family run over and killed by a man in a pick-up truck last Sunday in an attack the police said was driven by hate.

The hour-long ceremony started after the four coffins draped in Canadian flags rolled into the compound of the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario, and ended with prayers and condolences offered by religious and community leaders.

The four victims, spanning three generations, were killed when Nathaniel Veltman, 20, ran into them while they were out for an evening walk near their home in London, Ontario. A fifth family member, a 9-year-old boy, is recovering from his injuries in the hospital.

Police have said the attack was premeditated and allege the family was targeted because of their Islamic faith.

The funeral procession later proceeded for a private burial.

“And the very fact their coffins are draped in the beautiful Canadian flag is an apt testimony of the fact that the entire Canadian nation stands with them,” Raza Bashir Tarar High Commissioner for Pakistan to Canada told the gathering.

The family moved to Canada from Pakistan some 14 years ago.

The attack sparked outrage across Canada, with politicians from all sides condemning the crime, spurring growing calls to take action to curb hate crime and Islamophobia. The city of London, 200 km (120 miles) southwest of Toronto, has seen an outpouring of support in the aftermath of the attack.

That has given some hope to the grieving community to look beyond the tragedy.

“Irrespective of colour and creed, the expressions of raw emotion, the prayers, the quiet tears, the messages of comfort from people we know and from people that are complete strangers, it has been the first step towards finding a way to heal,” Ali Islam, maternal uncle of Madiha Salman, one of the victims, told the gathering.

Veltman, who returns to court on Monday, faces four charges of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the killings a “terrorist attack” and vowed to clamp down on far-right groups and online hate.

“I think we’re emotionally exhausted,” Imam Aarij Anwer told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp before the ceremony. “We’re looking forward to having some closure on Saturday.”

 

(Reporting by Carlos Osorio in London; Writing by Denny Thomas; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Aurora Ellis)

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G7 demand action from Russia on cybercrimes and chemical weapon use

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The Group of Seven (G7) wealthy nations on Sunday demanded Russia take action against those conducting cyber attacks and using ransomware from within its borders.

The rebuke came in a communique issued after a three-day summit of G7 leaders in Britain that also called on Moscow to “stop its destabilising behaviour and malign activities” and conduct an investigation into the use of chemical weapons on Russian soil.

The communique said Russia must “hold to account those within its borders who conduct ransomware attacks, abuse virtual currency to launder ransoms, and other cybercrimes”.

The issue is in the spotlight after a cyber attack on Colonial Pipeline, the largest fuel pipeline in the United States, and another that disrupted the North American and Australian operations of meatpacker JBS USA.

Britain has previously said Russia is a leading proponent of cyber attacks.

The G7 statement called for wider action against ransomware attacks, describing the practice of encrypting victims’ data and demanding payment for its return as an “escalating shared threat”.

“We call on all states to urgently identify and disrupt ransomware criminal networks operating from within their borders, and hold those networks accountable for their actions,” it said.

The call for an investigation into chemical weapon use comes after Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was treated in Germany for what German doctors said was poisoning with a military-grade nerve agent. He accused Putin of ordering the poisoning, which the Kremlin denies.

“We call on Russia to urgently investigate and credibly explain the use of a chemical weapon on its soil,” the G7 document said.

 

(Reporting by William James; editing by Michael Holden)

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G7 chides China on rights, demands COVID origins investigation

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Group of Seven leaders on Sunday scolded China over human rights in its Xinjiang region, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and demanded a full and thorough investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.

After discussing how to come up with a unified position on China, leaders issued a highly critical final communique that delved into what are for China some of the most sensitive issues, including also Taiwan.

The re-emergence of China as a leading global power is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War.

China’s rise has also unnerved the United States: President Joe Biden casts China as the main strategic competitor and has vowed to confront China’s “economic abuses” and push back against human rights violations.

“We will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the G7 said.

The G7 also called for a transparent, expert-led Phase 2 COVID-19 Origins study including in China, to be convened by the World Health Organization (WHO). Reuters earlier reported the finalised version of the draft communique.

“We haven’t had access to the laboratories,” Biden told reporters.

Biden said it was not yet certain whether or not “a bat interfacing with animals and the environment… caused this COVID-19, or whether it was an experiment gone awry in a laboratory”.

Before the G7 criticism emerged, China pointedly cautioned G7 leaders that the days when “small” groups of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone.

The G7 also underscored “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues”.

“We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions,” they said.

FORCED LABOUR

Biden said democracies were in a global contest with “autocratic governments”, and that the G7 had to deliver viable alternatives.

“We’re in a contest, not with China per se, … with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, as to whether or not democracies can compete with them in a rapidly changing 21st century,” Biden told reporters.

“As I’ve told (Chinese President) Xi Jinping myself, I’m not looking for conflict. Where we cooperate, we’ll cooperate; where we disagree I’m going to state this frankly, and we are going to respond to actions that are inconsistent.”

The G7 – comprising the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada – said it was concerned about forced labour in global supply chains including in the agricultural, solar, and garment sectors.

Beijing has repeatedly hit back against what it perceives as attempts by Western powers to contain China. It says many major powers are still gripped by an outdated imperial mindset after years of humiliating China.

U.N. experts and rights groups estimate that more than a million people, mainly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in Xinjiang in northwest China.

China denies all accusations of forced labour or abuse. It initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres and are designed to combat extremism. In late 2019, China said all people in the camps had “graduated”.

(Additional reporting by Kate Holton, Elizabeth Piper, William James, Michel Rose and Michael Holden; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Andrew Heavens and Gareth Jones)

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