Saudi king to G20: let's unite against coronavirus

By Stephen Kalin
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz speaks via video link during a virtual G20 summit on coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

By Stephen Kalin

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's King Salman called on Thursday for G20 leaders to boost funding for a coronavirus vaccine, resume the normal flow of goods and services as soon as possible, and help developing countries overcome the global health crisis.

His remarks came at the opening of an extraordinary, 90-minute video conference convened by the world's major economies to coordinate action over the outbreak that has infected more than 470,000 people and killed more than 21,000 worldwide.

"We must have an effective and coordinated response to this pandemic," the king said. "On the trade front, the G20 must send a strong signal to restore confidence in the global economy by resuming, as soon as possible, the normal flow of goods and services, especially vital medical supplies."

The G20, currently chaired by Saudi Arabia, has faced criticism of a slow response to the worsening crisis, which is expected to trigger a global recession.

Some member countries have announced economic stimulus packages to offset broad suspensions of air travel and shutdowns of many businesses.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged G20 leaders to match a pledge by countries like Australia and Canada to keep supply chains open and avoid export controls.

World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was to address the G20 to seek support for ramping up funding and production of personal protection equipment for health workers amid a global shortage.

"We have a global responsibility as humanity and especially those countries like the G20," Tedros told a news conference in Geneva late on Wednesday. "They should be able to support countries all over the world."


King Salman urged cooperation in financing research and development for therapeutics and a vaccine, ensuring the availability of vital medical supplies and equipment, and helping less developed countries build capacities.

Chinese President Xi Jinping followed him, advocating joint macroeconomic policies to stop the world from entering recession and stabilise the global industrial supply chain by facilitating trade and removing barriers.

Despite calls for cooperation, the G20 risks entanglement in an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia and frictions between the United States and China over the origin of the virus.

In preparatory meetings, Beijing and Washington agreed to call a timeout on their coronavirus blame game, the South China Morning Post reported, citing diplomatic sources.

But talks among U.N. Security Council nations have stalled over U.S. insistence that any joint statement call attention to the coronavirus' origins in China, NBC News reported.

"The U.S.-China dynamic is pivotal to successful G20 coordination, never more so than now as countries grapple 24/7 to confront and contain a pandemic we do not yet fully understand," former acting U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro said.

Meanwhile, though the Kremlin said oil markets were not under discussion by the G20, Washington could still try to launch a debate about ending a price war between Moscow and Riyadh that has pushed crude prices to near 20-year lows as the pandemic destroyed global demand.

(Additional reporting by Nayera Abdallah in Cairo, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Andrea Shalal in Washington, Alaa Swilam and Yousef Saba in Dubai, Anton Kolodyazhnyy in Moscow and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Toby Chopra and Andrew Cawthorne)