It’s been a couple of years since world leaders have been able to get together at the G-20. And like most gatherings since the COVID-19 pandemic started, there were some awkward moments in Rome on Saturday as people tried to figure out when they should wear masks, whether to shake hands, and how close they should get to each other.
Each leader walked down the red carpet into La Nuvola, the convention center named after a cloud-like structure floating inside of it, toward Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. Canada’s Justin Trudeau bowed slightly from his waist as he greeted the host. India’s Narendra Modi went in a for a hug. Germany’s Angela Merkel stuck with a fist bump. Argentine President Alberto Fernandez forgot to take off his mask for the photo, until Draghi nudged him.
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Draghi invited a group of first responders in white lab coats and uniforms to join the traditional “family photo” that takes place at the beginning of each summit — a symbol of the central issue that the leaders will be addressing.
“I’d like to say that it’s great to see you, all of you here, after a difficult few years for the global community. The pandemic has kept us apart, as it did with all our citizens,” Draghi told the other leaders before cameras were shooed out of the room.
“We can finally look at the future with great — or with some — optimism,” he said.
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A new global minimum tax for corporations
The G-20 leaders are poised to formally endorse a new global minimum tax of 15% on corporations — a move aimed at cracking down on tax havens. “We reached a historic agreement for a fairer and more equitable tax system,” Draghi said as he opened the summit.
For the United States, the White House estimates this could bring $60 billion in revenues per year, and it’s part of what Biden and Democrats hope will help pay for new spending on social programs and climate measures. Of course, Congress will first need to pass that package — which includes new tax measures like this.
The work of economic diplomacy at the @g20org this week continues. I spoke with @SaraEisen about our efforts to level the playing field for U.S. businesses & deliver on a foreign policy for the middle class, one that will strengthen the economy for American workers. https://t.co/6mb0mXOFfn
— Secretary Janet Yellen (@SecYellen) October 29, 2021
A senior administration official said Biden told leaders at the summit that “while we don’t see eye to eye on every issue, we can tackle shared interests.”
Leaders from China and Russia stayed home
Not everyone made the trip to Rome. China’s Xi Jinping isn’t traveling outside the country during COVID, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin didn’t leave home either.
“I think you’ll see the U.S. and Europe front and center at this G-20 as we deal with the fact that neither the leaders of Russia nor China will be present in the room,” said Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, talking to reporters on Air Force One on the way to Italy. “That dynamic will be interesting to watch unfold.”
Biden also met with Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the sidelines of the summit to talk about Iran’s nuclear program.
Protesters rally at summit over climate concerns
Thousands of activists are in Rome looking to bring attention to a number of issues including climate change and economic inequality.
Some climate protesters briefly staged a sit-in on the main route to the summit on Saturday, according to the The New York Times.
After the G-20 wraps up, Biden will head to the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, where he’s expected to press world leaders to commit to drastically cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
But that message will be complicated by the fact that Biden has been unable to pass significant climate legislation in the United States. Democrats scrapped one key proposal that would have fined power companies for continuing to use fossil fuels after the measure faced opposition from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.