Trade Politics
AP_17048414910495.jpg Brendan Smialowski/AFP

Italy's Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, left, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, talk during a meeting on the sidelines of a gathering of Foreign Ministers of the G20 leading and developing economies at the World Conference Center in Bonn, western Germany.

March 18, 2017

World powers drop pledge to fully oppose trade protectionism

BADEN-BADEN, Germany — The world's top economic powers have dropped a pledge to fully oppose trade protectionism amid pushback from the U.S. government of President Donald Trump, who wants to favor American companies and workers more.

Finance ministers at a Group of 20 meeting in Germany issued a statement Saturday that said only that countries "are working to strengthen the contribution of trade" to their economies.

By comparison, last year's meeting called on them to resist "all forms" of protectionism, which can include border tariffs and rules that favor a country's businesses over those in another economy.

The statement by the G-20, which brings together the world's top economic and diplomatic powers, is important as it helps set the tone for global economic policy.

Wolfgang Schaeuble, the finance minister of host country Germany, sought to play down any disagreements. He told reporters after the two-day meeting that the issue was more wording than substance.

"It's not true we are not agreed. It's completely clear we are not for protectionism. But it wasn't clear what one or another meant by that."

Schaeuble did suggest the talks had been somewhat rocky. He said, without mentioning a country by name, that "maybe one or the other important member state needs to get a sense of how international cooperation works."

There had been much anticipation to see how the U.S., represented by Treasury chief Steven Mnuchin, would handle a forum of talks that typically requires compromise when the U.S. administration had in recent weeks threatened to change some of its trade deals.

Trump, who campaigned on an "America First" platform, has already pulled the U.S. out of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement with Japan and other Pacific Rim countries. He also has started the process to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.

During the meeting, European countries and China were said to be pushing for a stronger stance in favor of free trade and cooperative, multi-country frameworks for trade such as the World Trade Organization.

Chinese Finance Minister Xiao Jie said his country would "unswervingly oppose trade protectionism." Canada, like China a major trade partner of the U.S., took a nuanced approach, with Finance Minister Bill Morneau said to support a general statement on the importance of trade for growth — while not insisting on particular language.

The G-20 is an informal forum on economic cooperation made up of 19 countries plus the European Union. The finance ministers' meeting will pave the way for a summit of national leaders in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7-8. Its decisions don't have the same force as an international treaty but simply depend on individual countries' promises to follow through on them.

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Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.