Finance chiefs from the world’s 20 largest economies, the G-20, reversed a decade-old precedent of reaffirming their commitment to global open trade, free from protectionist policies, during a meeting in Baden-Baden, Germany, Saturday.
The G-20 finance ministers convened to hammer out a joint communique addressing issues such as trade and commerce. The U.S., represented by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, refused to bend to other member nations’ push for language strictly in support of open trade, and instead advocated for “free and fair trade.” After failing to reach a compromise, the communique broke with the past and omitted the previous pledge for the countries to “avoid all forms of protectionism” in promoting open trade policies. Instead, the communique noted that the countries are “working to strengthen the contribution of trade to our economies.”
“The United States has been treated very, very unfairly by many countries over the years.”
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“We met at a time when the global economic recovery is progressing,” the communique read. “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.”
Just prior to his Friday meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who chaired the G-20 summit this year, President Donald Trump said “the United States has been treated very, very unfairly by many countries over the years.”
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“That’s going to stop,” Trump said.
Mnuchin made clear during the G-20 meeting the U.S. is not looking to engage in any trade wars, but reaffirmed the country’s commitment to reducing trade deficits and pursuing deals more beneficial to the national interest.
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German officials reportedly led the unsuccessful effort to get Mnuchin to subscribe to the communique’s traditional open trade language.
“I understand what the president’s desire is and his policies and I negotiated them from here, and we couldn’t be happier with the outcome,” Mnuchin said, according to The Washington Post.
Adamant global free trade officials criticized Mnuchin’s firmness. French Finance Minister Michel Sapin, in particular, noted he “regret[ted] that our discussions today didn’t end in a satisfactory manner.”
“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,” Sapin said in a statement. “Taking into account the recent evolution of the position of the U.S. and of the refusal of numerous countries, including France, to any rollback on these questions, the ministers of the G-20 decided to continue to work in a constructive manner … so as to reinforce the advantages of international commerce.”
The communique also omitted a pledge to combat climate change after objections from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
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