G20 finance ministers drop anti-protectionist pledge

By BBC News

Finance ministers from the world’s biggest economies have dropped an anti-protectionist commitment after opposition from the US.

G20 ministers left the two-day meeting without renewing their long-standing pledge to bolster free trade.

Last year, the group of the world’s 20 largest economies vowed to “resist all forms of protectionism”.

But since then, President Donald Trump has taken office, and is aggressively pursuing an “America First” policy.

His policies include penalties for companies which manufacture their products abroad.

Speaking after the meeting ended, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he would not read too much into his country’s desire to change the language behind the comminique, as “what was as in the past” releases was “not relevant”.

Mr Mnuchin added he had been “very clear that we do believe in free trade but we believe in balanced trade”.

The communique, which was published at the end of the meeting in Baden-Baden with the agreement of all attending delegates, also failed to include a vow on climate change.

Mr Trump has already promised to slash environmental funding.

The exclusion of the two issues in the communique was disappointing, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said.

“I regret that our discussions today were unable to reach a satisfying conclusion on two absolutely essential priorities that our world and which France would have liked to see the G20 continue to take firm and concerted action on.”

However, it did include pledges on a determination to fight tax avoidance, clamp down on terrorist financing and strengthen private investment in Africa.

Reaching an impasse: Joe Miller, BBC News, Baden-Baden

It started so well. With the sun shining in the German spa town of Baden-Baden, the first annual meeting of the G20 got under way with a reassurance from the US Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin that the White House was not interested in instigating international trade wars.

The combined efforts of Germany, and nascent free-trade champions China, it was thought, would temper some of Washington’s threats of imposing punishing border tariffs and renegotiating long-standing trade agreements.

G20 protectionist policies chart

But two days later, the communique approved by all the assembled finance ministers was published without a commitment to bolster free trade and dropped a pledge to “resist all forms of protectionism” from the previous year’s document.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble said the meeting had reached an impasse when it came to the issue, and added that his counterparts could not “force partners” – read the United States – “to go along with wording with which they don’t agree”.

Mr Schauble insisted that there had been “a lot of goodwill” at the meeting, but whether that goodwill extends to the future trade relationship with the world’s largest economy is now very much in doubt.