Group of 20 agrees on trade, but US balks on cli­mate change


Lead­ers of the Group of 20 agreed Sat­ur­day to fix the world trad­ing sys­tem af­ter dif­fi­cult, all-night talks in the Ar­gen­tine cap­i­tal, but only 19 of them agreed to sup­port the Paris ac­cord on fight­ing cli­mate change with the United States the lone hold­out.

The of­fi­cial sum­mit state­ment ac­knowl­edges flaws in global com­merce and calls for re­form­ing the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion. It doesn’t men­tion the word “pro­tec­tion­ism,” how­ever, af­ter ne­go­tia­tors said that had met re­sis­tance from the United States.

Ap­plause broke out in the sum­mit hall as the lead­ers, in­clud­ing U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, signed off on a fi­nal state­ment at the end of a two­day sum­mit.

The non­bind­ing agree­ment was reached af­ter talks by diplo­mats stretched overnight and into day­light Sat­ur­day, amid deep di­vi­sions be­tween mem­ber na­tions. Euro­pean Union of­fi­cials said the United States was the main hold­out on nearly ev­ery is­sue. Trump has crit­i­cized the WTO and taken ag­gres­sive trade poli­cies tar­get­ing China and the EU.

But China also pushed back in talks on steel, South Africa ob­jected to lan­guage on trade, Aus­tralia didn’t want the state­ment to be too soft on mi­gra­tion and Turkey wor­ried it would push too far on cli­mate change, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cials.

A se­nior White House of­fi­cial said the joint state­ment meets many U.S. ob­jec­tives and stressed that it in­cludes lan­guage about WTO re­form. The of­fi­cial also noted other el­e­ments such as lan­guage on work­force de­vel­op­ment and women’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and a com­mit­ment by China to do­ing in­fra­struc­ture fi­nanc­ing on “trans­par­ent terms.”

Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial, the lan­guage on cli­mate was nec­es­sary for Wash­ing­ton to sign on, and Turkey, Saudi Ara­bia and Rus­sia had ap­peared sym­pa­thetic to the U.S. po­si­tion but ul­ti­mately stayed with the other coun­tries.

With trade ten­sions be­tween the U.S and China dom­i­nat­ing the sum­mit, the Euro­peans sought to play me­di­a­tor. They also scaled back their ex­pec­ta­tions, cut­ting out men­tion of ris­ing pro­tec­tion­ism – mainly aimed at Trump.

The fi­nal lan­guage of the state­ment says, re­gard­ing cli­mate, that 19 na­tions that are sig­na­to­ries to the Paris ac­cord re­it­er­ate their com­mit­ment to it while the U.S. re­it­er­ates its de­ci­sion to with­draw. It also notes a re­cent U.N. re­port that warned dam­age from global warm­ing will be much worse than pre­vi­ously feared, and ex­presses sup­port for an up­com­ing U.N. cli­mate meet­ing in Poland meant to nail down how coun­tries will meet prom­ises made in the Paris ac­cord.

On global com­merce, the state­ment says the 20 coun­tries sup­port mul­ti­lat­eral trade but ac­knowl­edge that the cur­rent sys­tem doesn’t work and needs fix­ing, via “the nec­es­sary re­form of the WTO to im­prove its func­tion­ing.”

On mi­gra­tion, Euro­pean of­fi­cials said the U.S. ne­go­tia­tor said too much talk about it would have been a “deal-breaker” for Trump. So they came up with “min­i­mal­ist” lan­guage that ac­knowl­edges grow­ing mi­grant flows and the im­por­tance of shared ef­forts to sup­port refugees and solve the prob­lems that drive them to flee.

The state­ment also shows a com­mit­ment to a “rules-based in­ter­na­tional or­der,” de­spite Trump’s re­jec­tion of many of those rules.

“There were mo­ments when we thought all was lost,” one Euro­pean of­fi­cial said, “mo­ments when we spent two hours on one sen­tence.”

The of­fi­cials spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss the closed-door ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Thomas Bernes of the Canada-based Cen­tre for In­ter­na­tional Gov­er­nance In­no­va­tion, who has held lead­ing roles with the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund, the World Bank and the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment, said the G-20 had “veered all over the road” at the sum­mit and failed to truly fix trade. The U.S. was out of step on mi­gra­tion and cli­mate change and blocked mean­ing­ful agree­ment on those is­sues, he added.

“In­stead, lead­ers buried their dif­fer­ences in ob­scure lan­guage and dropped lan­guage to fight pro­tec­tion­ism, which had been in­cluded in ev­ery G-20 com­mu­nique since the lead­ers’ first sum­mit,” he said. “This is clearly a ret­ro­grade step forced by United States in­tran­si­gence.”

Per­haps sur­pris­ingly, one coun­try that was seen as par­tic­u­larly con­struc­tive was Rus­sia, the EU of­fi­cials said. De­spite ten­sions over its mil­i­tary ac­tions on Ukraine and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence abroad, Rus­sia sup­ports in­ter­na­tional ef­forts on trade and cli­mate.

Sum­mits like this “don’t take away con­tra­dic­tions” among G-20 lead­ers, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin said. But he added that “these meet­ings are use­ful be­cause coun­tries that are fight­ing” can fo­cus on prob­lems they all agree on such as WTO re­form.


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Ger­many’s Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel shake hands on Sat­ur­day. Merkel said the G20 agree­ment would send a clear sig­nal for the suc­cess of global cli­mate talks start­ing in Poland on Sun­day.

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