New Delhi: India hopes to play a constructive role to help build a middle ground consensus among the world’s major economies if the US and China spar over a final statement of the G20 summit at Buenos Aires beginning Friday, said a senior government official.

Leaders are wary of discord after the failure of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea to agree on a joint statement —following Chinese objections on trade.

And if the leaders fail to reach a consensus in Buenos Aires, it will be the second such failure of a summit hosted by Argentina after members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) failed to make any headway last December.

The official who is involved in finalizing India’s G20 strategy said the focus of the latest summit is “future of work" in the context of robotics, automation and artificial intelligence, infrastructure for development and sustainable food future. “Obviously other issues like trade, climate change, international financial architecture, all these issues have come up for discussion," he said, requesting anonymity.

The draft declaration is being negotiated by Sherpas this week before the 20 leaders sit down and sign it on 1 December. India will be represented by former economic affairs secretary Shaktikanta Das.

The official quoted earlier said differences of opinion in discussions so far have been the sharpest in trade. “I hope there will be consensus on all the issues including trade. India will play a constructive role to have a consensus-based outcome," he added.

Deep divisions between the US and China over international trade issues stymied cooperation at the APEC, leaving the 21 member-nations failing to agree on a customary joint statement on shared goals for the first time in the group’s 25-year history.

With China and the US engaged in a trade war marked by spiraling tit-for-tat tariff hikes, their positions on free trade and WTO have diverged wide. While China and other countries have dragged the US to the WTO against its move to justify tariff hikes on grounds of national security, the US has repeatedly stopped efforts to appoint judges to the highest adjudicating body in the WTO and has even suggested evicting China from the WTO as an option. Forced technology transfers mandated by China and alleged unfair trade practices have particularly irked the US government.

The South China Morning Post last week reported that Chinese vice minister of commerce Wang Shouwen warned against a repeat of the APEC failure at G20. “On the reform of the World Trade Organization and multilateral trade organizations, certain members insisted on imposing their own interest first at the expense of other members’ interests," Wang said. “So there was no consensus reached on this issue, nor was there a joint declaration produced after the leaders’ summit."

While the meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G20 meet is expected to somewhat calm down tensions, Wang said any success in Buenos Aires would rest on a foundation of mutual respect.

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