The Group of Seven (G7) industrial powers called on Sunday for the “immediate repeal” of import curbs on Japanese food products, referencing China’s restrictions after Japan began releasing wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The G7 trade ministers, in a statement after a weekend meeting in Osaka, did not mention China by name. Still, they also denounced what they consider rising economic coercion through trade.
The ministers reaffirmed their commitment to fostering free, fair, and mutually beneficial economic and trade relationships and condemned actions weaponizing economic dependencies. They also expressed concern about a comprehensive and evolving range of non-market policies, including pervasive, opaque, and trade-distortive industrial subsidies and forced technology transfer.
While the G7 has no binding authority to impose sanctions, the statement can carry weight in global trade negotiations. Its wording hints that the US and other Western powers may seek to leverage the group as an informal counterweight to Beijing.
It’s a delicate dance. The G7 member nations are increasingly interdependent through trade, but they disagree with Beijing over human rights and other issues. They worry that Beijing is unafraid to slap trade penalties on countries it dislikes, such as South Korea for installing a US missile defense system and Lithuania over allowing Taiwan to set up a de facto embassy there.
On the other hand, they’re reluctant to abandon the group and its tradition of working through differences constructively. That’s because the G7 provides a manageable forum that allows members to discuss their problems with peers and hash out solutions before bringing them to the more sprawling G20, where disagreements can be more contentious.
However, some members are beginning to doubt the G7’s value in a world where Washington has lost its traditional role as a global leader. They argue that if the US keeps pushing self-damaging Cold War-style policies to tie the economy with security, other major European economies that highly value their strategic autonomy will be less inclined to cooperate.
Others, like the US, believe the G7 has never been a genuine counterweight to Beijing and can still serve as a valuable forum for discussing common challenges. They say it’s a repository of “common values and a common approach to the rules-based international order.” It can also be a valuable platform for prenegotiation, allowing members to hash out their differences before bringing them to the G20 and other venues for further discussion. But the group will lose its credibility if the US and Japan, which share a deep suspicion of China, push plans that would further divide the membership. Those efforts will also undermine the G7’s value as a source of credible political leadership in an uncertain and turbulent world. The group is not going away anytime soon. But its future is still being determined. The members will meet again in Hiroshima in 2021, and they’re likely to face a new set of challenges. Then, they’ll need to reimagine what the group can do together.