Leaders of the world’s largest economic powers have agreed to overhaul the global body that regulates trade disputes, but they faced resistance from U.S. President Donald Trump over the Paris accord on climate change.
Here are some of the main developments at the Group of 20 summit, which wrapped up Saturday:
WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION
All G-20 leaders called for reforming the World Trade Organization and the issue will be discussed during the group’s next summit in Osaka, Japan, in June. The gathering’s final statement, however, did not mention protectionism after negotiators said the U.S. objected to the wording. Trump has criticized the WTO and taken aggressive trade policies targeting China and the European Union.
Several of Trump interactions with world leaders made headlines. His clear anger at Canada's prime minister calling him "Donald" and his wandering off after shaking the Argentine president's hand both became viral video fodder. Argentine President Mauricio Macri was left bewildered after Trump left him in what was meant to be a photo-op.
U.S.-CHINA TRADE WAR
Financial markets will be cheered by the announcement that Trump and Chines President Xi Jinping agreed at a dinner after the summit to have a 90-day truce in their trade battle.
Trump agreed to hold off on plans to raise tariffs Jan. 1 on $200 billion in Chinese goods. Xi agreed to buy a “not yet agreed upon, but very substantial amount of agricultural, energy, industrial” and other products from the United States to reduce America’s huge trade deficit with China, the White House said.
The cease-fire will buy time for the two countries to work out their differences in a dispute over Beijing’s aggressive drive to supplant U.S. technological dominance.
PRINCE UNDER PRESSURE
There were some awkward moments for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as some leaders called him out over the gruesome October killing of dissident Saudi newspaper columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul.
French President Emmanuel Macron was captured on video seemingly lecturing bin Salman, at one point being heard saying “I am worried,” you never listen to me,” and “I am a man of my word.” Macron said the crown prince only “took note” of his concerns.
British Prime Minister Theresa May also said she pressed bin Salman.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the only G-20 leader to raise the issue during the official session. Erdogan called bin Salman’s response — that the crime had not been proven — “unbelievable” and complained that Saudi authorities have been uncooperative.
But it wasn’t all bad for bin Salman. He was not shunned, and on the gathering’s first day, he and Russian President Vladimir Putin engaged in a hearty grip-and-grin as the two seemingly reveled in their shared status as relative outcasts.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded the Saudi prince was behind the killing. Saudi Arabia denies he played a role.
Western leaders confronted Putin over Russia’s recent seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels and crews, but the diplomatic pressure didn’t seem to bring either side closer to solving the conflict. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of being responsible for the standoff.
Trump cited Russia’s actions as the reason that he canceled a planned meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the summit. EU Council President Donald Tusk sharply criticized “Russia’s aggression” against Ukraine.
Putin tried to convince Trump and the leaders of France and Germany that Russia’s actions were justified — even pulling out a piece of paper and drawing a map of the disputed area to make his point.
The final communique signed by all 20 member nations said 19 of them reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris climate accord. The only holdout was the U.S., which has withdrawn from the pact under Trump.
Still, environmental groups praised the statement as welcome news.
“That G20 leaders signed up to the Paris Agreement reaffirmed their commitment to its full implementation in the resulting communique is important,” the World Wildlife Fund said. “It is also a reflection of the Argentinian government rightly making climate an important topic on the agenda.”
Greenpeace said that “the necessity of the U.S. being part of the effort to fight climate change cannot be denied, but this is a demonstration that the U.S. is still the odd one out.”
After two years of negotiations, Trump signed a revised North American trade pact with the leaders of Canada and Mexico on the sidelines of the summit. The deal is meant to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump long denigrated as a “disaster.”
The new pact won’t take effect unless approved by the legislatures of all three nations, and there are questions about the pact’s prospects in the U.S. Congress, especially now that Democrats will control the House. Democrats and their allies in the labor movement are already demanding changes.
But Trump said on the way back to Washington that he plans to formally terminate NAFTA, so Congress will have to choose between accepting the new pact or going without a trade accord.
LOW EXPECTATIONS\LOW OUTPUT
Even the host country had lowered expectations ahead of the summit, saying before the gathering started that it might not be possible to reach a consensus for a final statement.
After sleepless days of round-the-clock talks by diplomats, a communique was produced, but analysts said leaders merely signed a watered down statement that skirted trade and other contentious issues.
“The G20 veered all over the road” at the summit and the leaders failed to fix trade, which is widely seen as a priority for boosting growth in jobs and economies, said Thomas Bernes, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation who has held leading roles with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and Canada’s government.
“Leaders buried their differences in obscure language and dropped language to fight protectionism, which had been included in every G-20 communique since the leaders’ first summit. This is clearly a retrograde step forced by United States intransigence,” Bernes said.
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