G-20 ministers fail to get US on board for trade, climate

Participants in the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting posing for a photo in Baden-Baden, Germany, on Friday (March 17).
Participants in the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting posing for a photo in Baden-Baden, Germany, on Friday (March 17).PHOTO: EPA

BADEN-BADEN, GERMANY (AFP) - Finance ministers from the world’s biggest economies on Saturday (March 18) failed to get the US to renew an anti-protectionist pledge and a vow to fight climate change, in the face of Donald Trump’s “America First” push.

After a two-day meeting, ministers from Group of 20 (G-20) developed and emerging nations said they were “working to strengthen the contribution of trade to our economies” but failed to spell out a pledge to reject protectionism in a closing statement.

An entire section on action against climate change was dropped from the final document, sparking dismay among America’s partners as well as environmental activists.

 
 

“I regret that our discussions today were unable to reach a satisfying conclusion on two absolutely essential priorities that our world and which France would have liked to see the G-20 continue to take firm and concerted action on,” said French Finance Minister Michel Sapin.

Host German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble however struck a conciliatory tone, noting that in the US the matters of finance and trade were divided in two portfolios.

“Trade questions are not the responsibility of the finance minister... that’s why it was a bit complicated, that’s true,” he said, as the American delegation was led by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The conspicuous omissions come as Trump champions a “Buy American” strategy that includes threats to penalise companies that manufacture abroad by heavily taxing their products.

Carried to power on the back of a political storm over deindustrialisation in vast areas of the US, Trump vowed in his inauguration speech to “follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American.” Since taking office, he has withdrawn the US from a trans-Pacific free trade pact and attacked export giants China and Germany over their massive trade surplus.

His stance has been condemned by Washington’s trading partners, and led Beijing to issue a stern warning against sparking a trade war.

Trump himself insisted at a tense Washington press conference Friday, following his first meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that “I’m a free trader but also a fair trader”.

He also rejected a description of his policies as “isolationist.” .

'CAN'T HAPPEN AGAIN'

References to action against climate change under the Paris Accord were absent from the G20 statement, unlike at a China-led summit last year.

Delegates said the US team was unable to commit as they had not been given instructions from Washington to do so at the meeting in the western German spa town of Baden-Baden.

The exclusion of climate marked a new setback for environmental action, activists say, after Trump proposed to take the axe to environmental financing.

Under his first national budget proposal, he suggested cutting financial resources for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by a third, as well as eliminating contributions linked to UN climate change programmes.

On the campaign trail, Trump had threatened to pull the US out of the Paris Accord on combating climate change.

“The lack of attention to climate in the G-20 finance statement is no doubt due to the Trump administration’s irresponsible and isolated approach to climate change,” said Li Shuo, senior climate policy advisor at Greenpeace East Asia.

“Other countries should not allow this to happen again,” added Li.

But Schaeuble sounded a more optimistic tone, saying that “I’m not pessimistic, but rather I think the process works and we have made progress on a series of important questions.”