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A G20 foreign and development ministers meeting underway in Matera, on June 29, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

MATERA, Italy: G20 ministers led by the United States said on Tuesday that the coronavirus pandemic showed the need for greater global cooperation, as African nations sought help to develop their medical infrastructure.

In a sharp reversal from the previous US administration, Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasised the need for multilateral institutions as foreign ministers from the Group of 20 major economies met in the ancient Italian city of Matera.

“Multilateral cooperation will be key to our collective ability to stop this global health crisis,” said Blinken, winding down a week-long trip to Europe.

“That’s also true for the work we must do to strengthen global health security moving forward so we can detect, prevent and respond better to future health emergencies.”

Blinken pointed to US contributions to COVAX, the UN-backed initiative that aims to vaccinate low-income countries, including President Joe Biden’s promise to provide 500 million Pfizer doses.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, the host of the talks, said that the pandemic, which has hit his country particularly hard, exposed global vulnerabilities.

“Multi-lateralism and cooperation are fundamental in responding to global challenges,” he said.

Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula of the Democratic Republic of Congo, participating as part of an Italian push to involve African nations in G20 talks, warned that coronavirus was far from over in his continent and called for urgent measures.

In addition to immediate aid, he called for the G20 to back the capacity of developing countries to produce vaccines themselves and to help launch a continent-wide agency that will encourage scientific cooperation.

The G20 must help “concretely and in detail so we move beyond speeches to urgent action on the ground,” he said.

Such cooperation “will help African countries counter the shock of Covid and revive their economies for the greater good of the international community”, he said.

The talks will prepare for a G20 leaders’ meeting in October in Rome that is expected to see the first summit between US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping amid soaring tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

With China participating virtually in Matera, Tuesday’s conference was focused more on general themes but marked a major US shift following the defeat of former president Donald Trump, who belittled international institutions as part of his “America First” philosophy.