G20 agreement backs 'rules-based' order but bows to Trump on trade reforms.
Communique emerges from all-night talks
World leaders have signed off on an agreement which reaffirms a basic commitment by the world’s biggest economies to multilateral trade and a “rules-based international order”, but bows to US demands for urgent reform of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Agreement on a joint communique was by no means guaranteed at the beginning of the summit, when US negotiators took hardline positions, rejecting any mention of multilateralism, the “rules-based order” or the role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a global safety net.
Failure to agree would have called into question the survival of the G20 as a forum for maintaining global economic stability, and could have accelerated the slide towards protectionism.
France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, declared a victory for restoring international institutions at a moment when “multilateralism is going through a real crisis”. European unity on basic principles had helped save the summit, he said.
A senior White House official, who declined to speak on the record, called the summit a success in part because the US had been able to exclude language on multilateralism, and because “for the first time ever, the G20 recognized the WTO is currently falling short of meeting its objectives and that it’s in need of reform”.
Sherpas from the European Union and 19 countries worked through the week to salvage a meaningful joint statement, culminating in an all-night session on Friday. While the joint text retains some basic principles on trade and global governance, it has no more than a passing mention of migration and refugees and reflects no progress on climate change from last year’s summit in Hamburg.
As in Hamburg, one paragraph in the compromise reflects the US sceptical view, and another – acknowledging the seriousness of the threat and the need for concerted effort to combat it – reflects the views of all the other G20 leaders.
Speaking off the record, a senior US official told reporters the US “specifically preserved and explained our position for why we’re withdrawing from the job-killing Paris agreement”. The official claimed to have seen signs of “the coalition fraying” among some signatories to the Paris deal, “like Turkey, like Saudi Arabia, like Russia”.
There had been fears that the final text could be vetoed by any of the leaders and there is concern that Donald Trump, who did not take part in a session on trade on Friday, could disown the agreement at the last moment. Its first test came in a working dinner between Trump and Xi Jinping of China on Saturday night, at which the two leaders sought to resolve trade disputes with the threat of an all-out trade war hanging over their heads.
“We’ll be talking about a thing called trade,” Trump told reporters ushered into a bilateral meeting with Angela Merkel of Germany. “It’s a very important meeting.”
In the wake of new revelations in the investigation of his campaign’s links with the Kremlin, Trump has acted erratically throughout the two-day summit, dropping bilateral meetings and announcing he would hold a press conference only to change his mind a few hours later, citing the death of former president George HW Bush.
Trump cancelled a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin. The White House confirmed the two leaders nonetheless spoke at dinner on Friday.