By Davide Barbuscia and Marwa Rashad
DUBAI/RIYADH (Reuters) – Leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies vowed on Sunday to spare no effort to supply COVID-19 drugs, tests and vaccines affordably and fairly to “all people”, reflecting worries that the pandemic could deepen global divisions between rich and poor.
The pandemic and prospects of an uneven and uncertain economic recovery were at the centre of a two-day summit under the chairmanship of Saudi Arabia, which will hand the G20 presidency to Italy next month.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented impact in terms of lives lost, livelihoods and economies affected, is an unparalleled shock that has revealed vulnerabilities in our preparedness and response and underscored our common challenges,” the final communique said.
G20 nations will work to “protect lives, provide support with a special focus on the most vulnerable, and put our economies back on a path to restoring growth, and protecting and creating jobs for all.”
On vaccines, tests and treatments, the leaders said: “We will spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people.”
The world’s economy has experienced a sharp contraction this year as measures to contain the spread of the virus have curbed transport, trade, and demand across the planet.
The meeting was held by video link, like many such gatherings this year. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said in his closing remarks that the group had “adopted important policies that will achieve recovery all the way to an economy that is resilient, sustainable, inclusive, and balanced”.
G20 leaders said that while global economic activity has partially picked up thanks the gradual reopening of some economies, the recovery is uneven, highly uncertain and subject to downside risks.
They reaffirmed their commitment to use “all available policy tools as long as required” to protect people’s lives, jobs, and incomes.
The G20 has endorsed a plan to extend a freeze in debt service payments by the poorest countries to mid-2021 and a common approach for dealing with debt problems beyond that, according to the communique.
The Debt Service Suspension Initiative has helped 46 countries defer $5.7 billion in 2020 debt service payments, short of the 73 countries that were eligible, and promised savings of around $12 billion.
The head of the International Monetary Fund called on Sunday for prompt and effective implementation of the G20 framework for debt treatments beyond the initiative and said other countries needed help as well.
“Going forward, we must also help those countries not covered by the Framework to address debt vulnerabilities so that their economies can become more resilient,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement after addressing the G20 leaders.
In their joint statement, the leaders also said they strongly encouraged private creditors to participate in the initiative on comparable terms when requested by eligible countries.
Debt relief for Africa will be an important theme of the Italian presidency of the G20 in 2021.
The communique also stressed the importance of multilateral institutions. It called on the IMF to continue exploring additional tools that could help its members’ needs as the crisis evolves.
(Reporting by Davide Barbuscia and Maha El Dahan in Dubai; Raya Jalabi in Beirut and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry)
Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.