RIYADH: British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Neil Crompton has praised the Kingdom for helping the world to move forward from the coronavirus pandemic during its G20 presidency.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News the British envoy said: “I believe that the Riyadh Summit will be a very significant event, both for Saudi Arabia and the international community.
“I was working in Washington during the financial crisis when the first G20 Summit took place. Because of COVID-19 I see analogies with the situation today — a global crisis, which requires a multilateral solution with the G20 playing a key role in coordinating an international response,” he added.
“From the outset the UK has worked closely with the Saudi presidency and other international partners to agree steps to ensure a coordinated economic recovery, a credible plan for finding a vaccine and strengthening the international health system, as well as other 21st-century challenges like protecting the environment. I believe this will be known as the COVID summit,” the envoy said.
Crompton said that the 2020 G20 Summit represents an historic event as the first such gathering hosted by an Arab country.
“This is an important year for Saudi Arabia. It has a great deal of diplomatic experience in multilateral organizations like the UN, Arab League and OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation). This has been its first experience of chairing the G20. Because of COVID-19, it will be an even more important summit than usual. We have great admiration for what our Saudi partners have achieved so far.” He said that the UK supported the aim of the Saudi G20 presidency, namely “Realizing Opportunities of the 21st century for all,” and was keen that leaders reach agreement on the most important health and economic issues.”
“This will mean ensuring effective international coordination and action on key issues including a sustainable economic recovery — demonstrating that the international community has a credible plan for reviving the world economy; global health reform — finding agreement on the steps to ensure that the international community is better equipped to deal with future health challenges; and a long-term commitment to building back greener,” he said.
Action and consensus on the other main themes of the summit are equally important, including achieving macroeconomic stability, sustainable development, women’s empowerment, enhanced human capital and increased flow of trade and investment, he said.
Commenting on the relationship between the UK and Saudi Arabia, Crompton said that it goes back a long time: “I like to say that we have a historic relationship, but a modern partnership.”
The longstanding relationship is based on a number of pillars including trade and investment, security, energy, shared concerns about regional issues and strong people to people links, he added.
“Both of us know that in a globalized world, many of the world’s challenges can be tackled only through effective multilateral action. So we have worked hard with the Saudi presidency to try to fund multilateral solutions to some of these challenges through the G20. I believe it has helped strengthen our bilateral relationships,” the envoy said.
The Saudi G20 Presidency led a strong early response to the emerging COVID-19 crisis, including a leaders’ extraordinary statement in March and the finance ministers’ action plan in April, he added.
“One of the most important agreements was the G20 decision to suspend debt service repayments for the poorest countries, and the agreement in October to extend this by six months,” he said adding that this step will provide an important breathing space for struggling countries at a time when their economies are under immense pressure because of the pandemic.
“The UK is committed to working together with the Saudi presidency to strengthen the global response to COVID-19 and set a sustainable, inclusive and resilient path to recovery. We are leading international efforts to develop a safe, workable coronavirus vaccine that will be available throughout the world.
“Saudi Arabia’s support of $500 million to WHO, Global Vaccine Summit (Gavi) and CEPI has been critical for the immediate health response and the development of a vaccine, as well as its equitable distribution globally,” Crompton said.
“We also hope that discussions at the G20 Leaders’ Summit result in an ambitious set of announcements on climate change and protecting the environment ahead of next year’s COP26 (the UN climate change conference), which the UK is jointly hosting with Italy.
“Saudi Arabia has a particularly important leadership role to play in this field, given its status as the world’s largest hydrocarbon exporter. As a result any steps the Kingdom takes to tackle climate change are important not just in their own right, but also in sending a message to the international community that climate change is an agenda that affects everybody.”
The UK welcomes Saudi Arabia’s G20 agenda and agrees the importance of negative emissions approaches, nature-based solutions and mobilizing finance for adaptation, he said, adding that there is now an opportunity for us to recover and build back greener climate-smart infrastructure.
Crompton said that the global coronavirus pandemic meant that the summit would now take place virtually — a pity given how much effort the Saudi authorities had put into hosting the event.
However, he said that everyone understood that public health must come first.
“In my eight months as ambassador and despite the pandemic, I have enjoyed visiting Jeddah and Al-Khobar and I hope to visit many more of the beautiful and historic UNESCO world heritage sites in the Kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia is a beautiful country, and I enjoy getting out and about. I am grateful for the very warm Saudi hospitality and the local delicacies I have enjoyed since my arrival, including dates from Qassim and mint from Madinah. I hope others have the opportunity to visit too.”