G20 finance ministers emerged from a disappointing meeting yesterday (19 March), where no agreement was reached on trade relations after the United States proved to be in no mood to compromise. EURACTIV Germany reports.
On Friday (17 March), at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, US President Donald Trump denounced his country’s free trade deal with Mexico and Canada (NAFTA) as “a catastrophe for the US”. He also claimed that his approach is not “isolationist” and he is a believer in free and fair trade.
But G20 ministers, meeting in the German town of Baden Baden, were unable to agree on a free trade stance in their final joint declaration, breaking a decade-long dedication to open trade.
Instead, the US blocked any attempts to broker a commitment to open trade and an impasse was reached in terms of tackling protectionism. The language used in the final statement was toned down and all that remained was: “we are working to strengthen the contribution of trade to our economies”.
There was also little new to speak of in terms of tax evasion and money laundering. The only clue that the G20 has arrived in the 21st century came in its statements on cybercrime.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, despite admitting a consensus could not be reached on the actual meaning of protectionism, insisted that the meeting was a success and warned against exaggerating the reaction of the American delegation.
A lot was expected from talks on development cooperation and, for the first time, five African ministers from non-G20 countries were invited to attend the summit.
But ONE’s Germany Director Stephan Exo-Kreischer said that “the G20 finance ministers missed the opportunity to draw up an ambitious investment plan to boost education, employment and participation in Africa. But it adopted no new initiatives or tangible projects.
“By 2050 Africa’s population will have doubled from its current 1.2 billion to 2.5 billion. Whether this population boom will go hand in hand with an economic boom […] relies on whether the G20 countries, together, with their African partners, put these projects into action.”
It is clear that the winds of change that swept the Trump administration to power will also blow down the halls of the G20’s summits, after the declaration of the ministers contained no mention of climate change, in stark contrast to previous years.
Once again, the reason was the US being difficult. Trump has in the past denounced climate change as “a hoax” and has branded investment in this area as a “waste of money”. His draft budget reflects his views and big cuts are planned for environmental protection.
“The US under Donald Trump is impeding climate protection, unleashing the financial markets and engaging in national protectionism,” said German Greens leader Anton Hofreiter.
Environmental groups also assessed the outcome of the meeting negatively. Germanwatch international climate policy chief Lutz Weischer, in regard to the climate strategy for the upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg, said that “from the meeting of G20 government heads, a clear signal has to be sent that the Paris Agreement will be implemented rapidly and ambitiously, even if only partly in some US states.
“The world cannot submit to the denial of reality that the Trump administration is trying to dictate.”