Ottawa/Paris/Berlin: World leaders forged a fragile compromise at a summit in Germany that failed to conceal the reality that Donald Trump’s America is increasingly going its own way.
The Group of 20 (G-20) nations meeting in Hamburg agreed to fight protectionism while tacitly recognizing Trump’s concerns about excess steel capacity and what he says are unfair trade practices. On climate change, the US was again isolated, with all 19 other members agreeing that the Paris accord on cutting harmful emissions was “irreversible."
“I always said that this wouldn’t be easy and that we shouldn’t hide areas of discord," Chancellor Angela Merkel, the summit host, told reporters on Saturday at the end of two days of talks. “The communique has to reflect those areas where there is no consensus."
As anti-globalization protesters clashed with police across Hamburg, burning cars and looting shops, G-20 officials struggled to bridge their differences. The difficulty in reaching a form of language acceptable to all hints at the fallout to come from the Trump administration’s breach with the postwar order and his turn toward an America First stance.
“The US seems to be emphasizing ‘we retain full right to take unilateral action,"’ said Thomas Bernes, a former International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank official who is now a fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, in Waterloo, Canada. “They’ve stepped aside from a system which they helped largely to create and it’s a little bit rudderless now."
The last global summit, the G-7’s meeting in May, saw huge divisions over climate and trade and this meeting was no different. Leaders are concerned about a potential trade war over steel as Trump gears up for a decision on whether to impose punitive tariffs amid ongoing complaints about dumping on global markets.
The final G-20 statement pledged renewed efforts to combat excess capacity in the steel industry, while referring to the use of “trade defence instruments." Thus, despite some compromises, the US still has a mechanism at hand to declare a trade war at any time.
The president left the meeting pleased with the outcome. “The #G20Summit was a wonderful success and carried out beautifully by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Thank you!" he said on Twitter.
Trump was “very open" in his contributions during the closed-door sessions, especially on the contentious areas of trade and climate, according to Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who hosted the president in Sicily during the G-7. “And I think that everybody appreciated this fact," he said.
In response to an assertion by Trump that he will always defend American workers, France’s Emmanuel Macron gave the example of his Apple iPhone: Designed in the US, made in China with some US parts, and sold in Europe, it illustrates the benefits of globalization.
It’s a “profound mistake" to judge the benefits of trade through the prism of deficits or surpluses, Macron told reporters at the summit close. “Protectionism and dumping are both bad answers to our problems."
Chinese President Xi Jinping took a swipe at “major developed nations" for backsliding toward protection, while making a pitch for China and Russia to step up and assume more global leadership. Trump later scowled and sat with his arms crossed as Xi spoke during a lunchtime session.
The summit also featured the much-anticipated first meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin, which had been expected to last about 30 minutes but stretched for more than two hours. Putin told reporters on Saturday that Trump had quizzed him about interference in the the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and that he thought Trump accepted his denial of Russian involvement.
With the US refusing to align itself with the other G-20 members on climate change, the French president made a last-minute attempt to keep Trump on board, organizing an impromptu meeting with the UK’s Theresa May and Malcolm Turnbull of Australia. But Macron couldn’t avoid a 19 to one split.
The US announced that “it will immediately cease the implementation of its current nationally-determined contribution" to the Paris climate accord after Trump pulled the US out of the agreement. Instead, it insisted on a reference to fossil fuels and committed to “an approach that lowers emissions while supporting economic growth and improving energy security needs."
The final statement underlined Trump’s lone stand, saying that all G-20 members except for the US “state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible." Bloomberg