G-20 summit ends without consensus on trade, climate

US presses for fairer deals, while it and other members push back against climate action

BADEN-BADEN (Germany) • Finance chiefs of the world's largest economies yesterday set aside their previous commitment to avoid protectionist policies and fudged their statement on the desired nature of international trade, in response to the Trump administration's view that global commerce arrangements need to be reworked.

The Group of 20 (G-20) nations, meeting in Germany, said in a communique that they are "working to strengthen the contribution of trade to our economies".

That was a much pared-down formulation compared with the group's statement last year, and also omitted a promise to "avoid all forms of protectionism".

References to action against climate change under the Paris accord were also scrapped from the G-20 statement, unlike at a previous summit last year, in the face of resistance from countries, including the United States, China, India and Saudi Arabia.

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

In two days of meetings in Baden-Baden, delegates were split under the pressure of the new US rhetoric on the balance of global trade, with most favouring a multilateral, rules-based system as currently embodied in the World Trade Organisation.

The US, represented by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, argued that trade arrangements need to be made fairer, in line with the administration's claims that the US has had a bad deal from the current set-up.

"We met at a time when the global economic recovery is progressing," the official communique stated. "But the pace of growth is still weaker than desirable and downside risks for the global economy remain. We reaffirm our commitment to international economic and financial cooperation."

While delegates greeted Mr Mnuchin and said that he had been engaged in the process, it was not possible to reconcile the US stance and that of the other members in any substantive way.

Officials may continue to seek greater consensus on the trade stance between now and the G-20 leaders' summit in Hamburg in July.

The communique also committed to "further strengthening the global financial architecture" and said members support work to finalise the Basel III framework on bank regulations.

"I regret that our discussions today didn't end in a satisfactory manner," French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said in a statement.

"France is fully convinced of the necessity of regulated free trade beneficial to all, and of a resolution to commercial conflicts in a multilateral framework," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 19, 2017, with the headline 'G-20 summit ends without consensus on trade, climate'. Print Edition | Subscribe