G-20 summit

G-20 communique admits global system is flawed, in nod to Trump

BUENOS AIRES • Leaders of the world's largest economies agreed the global system of rules that has underpinned trade for decades is flawed, in a post-summit statement that the White House quickly claimed as a win for President Donald Trump's protectionist agenda.

The Group of 20 communique was the culmination of days of round-the-clock talks. Some officials said just having a statement was a good result, given intense wrangling over issues like trade, migration and climate. Still, the watered-down language suggests further tests ahead for advocates of globalisation and institutions like the World Trade Organisation.

The statement issued at the end of the two-day meeting in Buenos Aires on Saturday night omitted for the first time a reference to the risk of protectionism. While leaders recognised the benefits of multilateral trade, they said the system is "falling short of its ob-jectives and there is room for improvement". They committed to the reform of the WTO, and will discuss this at their next meeting in June in Japan.

A senior White House official praised the document, particularly the language calling for changes to the WTO and global trade.

The addition of wording to explain Mr Trump's decision to exit the Paris climate accord was also welcomed by the United States, the official said. While the communique said signatories to the accord reaffirmed it as irreversible, there was a separate line included underneath on the US position.

The US got the better deal out of the remaining 19 delegates, according to Mr Thomas Bernes of Canada's Centre for International Governance Innovation. "This is the weakest wording on trade that we have ever had," Mr Bernes said. "The 19 chose to bury their differences and issue a weakened communique, which raises questions about their ability to show resolute leadership." The host, Argentinian President Mauricio Macri, said reform of the WTO was needed for "fair trade, fair play" - language often used by Mr Trump.

Still, not everyone saw the agreement as a win for Washington, and officials from non-US countries set out to sell it after its release.


Russian sherpa Svetlana Lukash said the communique was a "great success" and showed five days of drafting had not been wasted. "Just getting the communique was a success."

The lack of a reference to the risks of protectionism was unsurprising given that many G-20 members have been increasing their barriers to trade, said a senior official involved in the discussions. Negotiators from China and Europe had also pushed for language in the communique on the need for WTO reform, so it was not a victory just for the US, the official added.

As often in G-20 communiques, some of the globe's most pressing issues were left out. While several leaders discussed Russian aggression against Ukraine in the Kerch Strait directly with President Vladimir Putin, there was no reference to it in the statement. Nor was there mention of the concern many leaders felt about the brutal killing of columnist and critic Jamal Khashoggi in October in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.

The document emerged after a week of difficult negotiations, providing a measure of relief to officials who feared a repeat of recent gatherings like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea, when no final statement was issued. The G-7 summit earlier this year was upended when the US withdrew its support for the joint statement minutes after its formal publication.

The priority appeared to be on salvaging the summit itself.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the absence of meetings such as the G-20 would spur trade wars, while Mr Putin said the communique was useful even if it was general in nature.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2018, with the headline 'G-20 communique admits global system is flawed, in nod to Trump'. Subscribe