Group of 20 finance leaders said on Sunday that trade and geopolitical tensions have “intensified”, raising risks to improving global growth, but they stopped short of calling for a resolution of a deepening United States–China trade conflict.
After reports of rocky negotiations that nearly aborted the issuance of a communique, finance ministers and central bank governors meeting in southern Japan affirmed language issued in Buenos Aires last December that offered tepid support for a rules-based multilateral trading system.
“Global growth appears to be stabilising, and is generally projected to pick up moderately later this year and into 2020,” the G20 finance leaders said, in a communique issued as the meetings in Fukuoka closed.
“However, growth remains low and risks remain tilted to the downside. Most importantly, trade and geopolitical tensions have intensified. We will continue to address these risks, and stand ready to take further action,” the communique said.
It also said that G20 finance leaders had agreed to compile common rules by 2020 to close loopholes used by global tech giants such as Facebook and Google to reduce their corporate taxes.
And the communique contained pledges to increase debt transparency on the part of both borrowers and creditors and to make infrastructure development more sustainable, an initiative launched in the wake of complaints that China’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure drive was saddling poor countries with debt they could not repay.
But the final language reportedly excluded a proposed clause to “recognise the pressing need to resolve trade tensions” from a previous draft that was debated on Saturday.
The deletion, which G20 sources told the Reuters news agency came at the insistence of the US, shows a desire by Washington to avoid encumbrances as it increases tariffs on Chinese goods. The statement also contains no admissions that the deepening US-China trade conflict was hurting global growth.
A positive tone
But some analysts said the talks were less confrontational than they might have been. An agreement on Friday – as the G20 meeting kicked off – by US President Donald Trump to not impose punitive tariffs on Mexican goods in return for Mexico’s commitment to control migration flows into the US set a positive tone for the meetings.
“Japan was really trying to keep the big issues on the sidelines,” Martin Schulz, senior research fellow at the Fujitsu Research Institute, told Al Jazeera. “The European Union was pushing for some advance on the trade side, which was extremely unlikely, and the US looked in such a confrontational mood just before the meeting, so it was a really open question how it would go.”
The G20 represents 19 of the world’s largest developed and developing nations and the EU.
International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde said she “emphasised that the first priority should be to resolve the current trade tensions” while working to modernise international trading rules.
Netherlands-based investment bank ING said in a report last week that it sees global trade growing at its slowest pace in a decade.
“The strong setback to world trade growth at the end of 2018 and the damage from the trade war will make 2019 the worst year for trade since the financial crisis, with only 0.2 percent growth,” it said in its report.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Saturday he did not see any impact on US growth from the trade conflict, and that the government would take steps to protect consumers from higher tariffs.
Mnuchin met People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang on Sunday in the first meeting of high-level US officials in a month. In a tweet, Mnuchin called the meeting “constructive” and “a candid discussion on trade issues,” but offered no other details.
At the Buenos Aires G20 summit in December 2018, the US and China agreed to a five-month trade truce to allow for negotiations to end their intensifying trade war. But those talks hit an impasse last month, prompting both sides to impose higher tariffs on each other’s goods as the conflict nears the end of its first year.
The widening fallout from the US-China trade war has tested the resolve of the group to show a united front as investors worry if policymakers can avert a global recession.
The bickering over trade language has dashed hopes of Japan, which chairs this year’s G20 meetings, to keep trade issues low on the list of agendas at the finance leaders’ meeting.
Mnuchin said Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping would meet at a June 28-29 G20 summit in Osaka.
Mnuchin described the planned meeting as having parallels to the two presidents’ December 1 meeting in Buenos Aires, when Trump was poised to hike tariffs on $200bn worth of Chinese goods.
Trump took that step in May and will be ready to impose similar 25 percent tariffs on a remaining $300bn list of Chinese goods around the time of the Osaka summit.
At the Buenos Aires meeting, the G20 leaders described international trade and investment as “important engines of growth, productivity, innovation, job creation and development. We recognise the contribution that the multilateral trading system has made to that end.”
The leaders in that communique called for reform of the World Trade Organization rules that were falling short of objectives with “room for improvement,” pledging to review progress at the Japan summit.