Contentious G-20 shows US needs time to 'adapt' - IMF chief Christine Lagarde

IMF chief Christine Lagarde arrives for a symposium at the G-20 meeting, on March 17, 2017.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde arrives for a symposium at the G-20 meeting, on March 17, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BADEN BADEN, Germany (AFP) - IMF chief Christine Lagarde sought to play down fears over the US weakening international commitments to free trade and climate change on Saturday (March 18), saying the new White House needed time to "adapt and learn".

"Whenever there's a new member at a G-20 meeting, there is a process of learning and adaptation," Lagarde told AFP after a finance ministers' gathering in Baden Baden, western Germany.

After a two-day meeting, ministers from the group of developed and emerging nations released a communique that dropped past years' language rejecting protectionism, supporting multilateral trade talks, and committing nations to support the 2015 Paris climate accords.


"There's a new administration in Washington which will find its feet, and which for the moment is obviously taking care not to commit itself too strongly to anything," Lagarde said.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin dismissed previous agreements as "not relevant" in remarks to journalists after Saturday's talks.

Carried to power on the back of a political storm over deindustrialisation in vast areas of the US, President Donald Trump vowed in his inauguration speech to "follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American".

His strategy includes threats to penalise companies that manufacture abroad by heavily taxing their products.

But Lagarde insisted that she has "high hopes, especially regarding trade," after the Group of 20 (G-20) pointed to growing confidence about a global economic recovery and promised to refrain from manipulating currencies.

Trump has attacked major exporters China and Germany over their currencies, saying they are too weak against the dollar - making their products cheaper compared with competing American goods.

In the event, there was little debate on the divisive topic around the G-20 tables, various sources said.

In its own statement, the IMF said it would ensure "vigorous exchange rate surveillance" to help hold countries to their promises.