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G20 ministers struggle to find consensus on trade, climate

Baden-Baden, Germany—Finance ministers and central bankers from top economies are battling Saturday to find common ground on world trade in the face of US President Donald Trump’s “Buy American” drive.

Ministers from G20 nations have gathered in the picturesque western German spa town of Baden Baden since Friday for a meeting clouded by fears of growing protectionism fuelled by Trump’s stance.

Trump, whose tough “America First” talk helped win him the presidency, has withdrawn the US from a trans-Pacific free trade pact and attacked export giants China and Germany.

That stance has grated with Washington’s partners, who are trying to persuade US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to hold fast to a long-standing G20 anti-protectionism commitment.

But talks have so far failed to produce a breakthrough for consensus on the issue, and the clock is ticking down to the close of the two-day session when a final statement is due to be published.

The separate issue of climate change has also become a sticking point, participants said, noting that the US delegation is reticent to sign up to previous pledges to help fund mitigation programmes.

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said if no agreement could be found on both issues, that could be reflected in Friday’s final statement.

“Our heads of states are meeting in a few weeks. On subjects that are so important, it’s not up to the finance ministers to block or to walk back on the issue, there will not be any backsliding on such fundamental issues,” he said.

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.”

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development head Angel Gurria pointed to similar developments elsewhere, in a “backlash against globalization” which is seeing growth and economic reforms stutter as populations grumble over inequality.

Governments should spread the proceeds of economic growth more widely to contain popular anger that risks further roiling the global economy, the rich nations’ club urged in a report presented at Friday’s G20 gathering.

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.” 

Topics: President Donald Trump , “Buy American” drive , G20 ministers , Trade , Climate
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