Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman addressing a remote press conference at the G20 summit, in the capital Riyadh Image Credit: AFP

As expected, the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating blow to the global economy topped the agenda of this week’s Group of Twenty (G20) summit, led by Saudi Arabia, this year forum’s president.

“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, issued on Sunday, said. The G20 nations will work together 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,” the statement added.

This year’s summit of the G20, the central forum for international cooperation on financial, economic, and governance, has been a special one for many reasons, mainly because it was held under unusual circumstances- the pandemic, the global recession and shortly after the US presidential election.

The success of the historic G20 summit is a testament of the Saudi leadership role in bridging the differences to ensure that all efforts are focused on the right issues

- Gulf News

However, there is another main reason why this week’s summit was a milestone. It was presided by Saudi Arabia under very challenging circumstances. Nevertheless, the Saudi leadership managed to overcome those challenges to bring about a successful meeting that may have exceeded the expectations of participating countries.

Saudi Arabia, the first Arab country to lead such an important summit of the biggest economies in the world, is not only a regional powerhouse but also a key player in all international endeavours to stabilise the global economy. In preparing for this critical meeting, Riyadh engaged with a great number of international players, including international organisations, businesses and think tanks around the world to draw a viable and firm policy statement for the summit, which was clearly reflected in the final communique.

Saving millions of jobs

Another reason the summit was important is its unusual focus on helping poor and highly indebted countries, whose economies have been hit hard by the pandemic. The summit 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. This is important to give those countries some relief that would help them save millions of jobs and channel some financial resources to support the medical sector in the face of growing COVID-19 infection rate.

Another important note is the unusually blunt language used in the communique to address the increasing threat of climate change and the commitment to multilateralism. Both issues came under attack from the Trump administration for the past four years.

A new US administration, led by Joe Biden, is expected to support the G20 efforts in mitigating climate change impact and strengthening international multilateral agencies such as the World Health Organisation and World Trade Organisation, from which the US withdrew recently. The success of the historic G20 summit is a testament of the Saudi leadership role in bridging the differences to ensure that all efforts are focused on the right issues.