Discussions at this year’s B7 Summit, hosted by the CBI, focused on the future of global trade, public health, digital and climate change. Before formal proceedings kicked off, a CEO Summit saw 200 business leaders feed in their perspectives on what was needed to remove barriers, realise opportunities and drive global progress.
The timing of this Summit – as the world fights back from COVID-19 and looks to build back better – means the discussions could have more influence over the G7 than many that have gone before. The past year has been bad for international co-operation as nations closed their doors and looked after their own. But now there’s chance for a reset, and the message from business leaders was for global leaders to take on board the lessons they have learnt through the pandemic: the importance of collaboration, of resilience and of adapting at speed.
“Confidence flows from co-operation.”
Gordon Brown credited international co-operation with helping the world bounce back from the financial crisis in 2009 – and similar efforts are needed now.
If governments can facilitate more open trade and sharing of ideas, data and innovation, businesses can help solve problems quicker, business leaders agreed.
“The vaccine is the ultimate example,” said CBI Director General Tony Danker.
“The challenges we face – COVID-19, recovery, climate change – need leaders to lean in, not stand off. To collaborate around common goals and to make real commitments to work in concert,” he added. “Business can role model that spirit and action.”
His comments were echoed by Sharon Thorne, Global Chair at B7 sponsor Deloitte: “If last year taught us anything, it’s that with collaboration and shared purpose, business can be a catalyst for change.”
Both referred to the Goal 13 Platform, through which businesses can share their experiences and plans for reaching net-zero, as a way of cutting through some of the complexity involved and driving faster results.
“You are only as resilient as the weakest link in your supply chain.”
It’s a comment that resonated for all four themes of the Summit.
On health, it was a recognition that “no one is safe, until everyone is safe” when it comes to coronavirus. Until there is a global rollout and take-up of the vaccine, continued collaboration on data and a return to international travel, global economic recovery remains a pipedream.
“Health equals wealth,” business leaders agreed – pointing to the new emphasis of health and wellbeing in the workplace as a basis for their concern on issues such as healthcare and aging too.
On climate resilience, “until everyone is carbon neutral, no-one is carbon neutral” – and a lot of discussion focused on how to bring everyone on together, to cross the finish line together and to ensure SMEs, in particular, are not left behind.
On trade and digital, issues converged. Businesses talked about their increased use of technology, data and analytics to manage supply chain issues during the pandemic – and the benefits of wider adoption going forward to boost trade among SMEs. But they highlighted inequalities in access to, or adoption of, digital technology, and the digital skills to support them – as well as the worrying rise of protectionist measures in many countries around the world.
On adapting at speed
“We could have used the pandemic to postpone tackling the issues we faced – instead we accelerated transformation”.
A lot of that transformation has focused on the use of digital technology within businesses, where a decade’s worth of change has been condensed into the past year. But cast the net wider and look at the role governments can play in supporting the corresponding opportunities that digital provides, and regulation, tax and trade haven’t kept up.
The pandemic has also put greater focus on the race to net-zero – and many firms are responding to the call. But momentum needs to build ahead of COP26. And a common plea from business leaders was they need a greater sense of direction from their governments, and fast.
How these discussions fed into the B7 recommendations
The CEO Summit was followed by two days of discussions between the business federations of the G7 countries – and concluded with a communique of their recommendations. These included:
On trade, the G7 should:
- Commit to a joint roadmap to roll back protectionist measures adopted in the pandemic including export restrictions over the next 12 months; and commit to prioritising open global supply chains
- Strive for an open, transparent consensus-based international system of international regulations, standard setting, rules and norms.
On climate, the G7 should:
- Target the end of unabated coal in power generation by 2040; detail policy plans and incentives to support industry, workers and communities impacted by the transition; and drive innovation in abatement and alternative power generation technologies
- Prioritise national policies to support the development of markets that value biodiversity, natural environments, and nature-positive business activity
- Increase international alignment in developing sustainable finance taxonomies, disclosures, regulations, and policy frameworks.
On digital, the G7 should:
- Establish greater cooperation on next-generation regulatory frameworks governing emerging technologies like AI and fintech, illegal goods and content, and digital competition issues.
On vaccines and international travel, the G7 should:
- Facilitate vaccine production and roll out, avoiding counter-productive export bans and uncoordinated national initiatives
- Enact clear and consistent standards and procedures for restarting cross-border travel, using mutual recognition of Covid-19 tests and digital health credentials.
Echoing businesses’ plea for greater collaboration, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, responded to the communique: “The cooperation between business and government has been unprecedented throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
“We must take that same spirit of collaboration and leadership as we build back better, capitalise on opportunities in trade and technology, and fight climate change and biodiversity loss. Together we must push for greater ambition across the G7 to tackle our shared challenges.”