Trump heads to G20 primed for new conflicts
Donald Trump jets to Argentina Thursday for a weekend of G20 summitry riven by new tensions over Ukraine on top of fissures carved open by the US president on trade and climate change.
Following Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships, Trump threatened to cancel planned talks in Buenos Aires with President Vladimir Putin. But the Kremlin said the meeting was on for Saturday.
“We don’t have to agree on all the issues and indeed that may be impossible but we need to talk. That’s in the interests not only of our two countries, it’s in the interests of the whole world,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Moscow.
After igniting a trade war with China and threatening tougher tariffs to come in January, Trump is also slated to sit down with President Xi Jinping on the G20 margins to press for wholesale reform of the world’s second-biggest economy in favor of access for US companies.
En route to Argentina, Xi vowed on Wednesday that China would “make a lot of efforts to speed up market access, improve the investment environment and increase protection of intellectual property.”
But foreign firms in China complain that such promises are all too routine, and analysts doubt that Trump and Xi’s talks over a working dinner will serve up much beyond a commitment to negotiate further.
For starters, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Wednesday slammed Beijing for failing to offer “meaningful reform” on aggressive trade policies and threatened tariffs on Chinese autos.
In an interview with Argentine daily La Nacion, French President Emmanuel Macron warned against the risk of “a destructive trade war for all” emanating from the G20 discussions.
“If we do not show concrete progress, our international meetings become useless and even counterproductive,” he said.
Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, said Trump needs to properly overhaul the US-China trading relationship and press for lasting reforms by Xi.
“An agreement that simply results in the purchase of more US products from China, or promises vague commitments with unclear timelines, will only serve to kick the can down the road, and would further harm the state of the relationship for years to come,” he commented.
The G20 summit is already confronted with dire warnings, by the International Monetary Fund among others, of the potential harm faced by the world economy from Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods and his stated threats of action to come against European and Japanese cars.
G20 leaders, whose countries account for four-fifths of the world’s economic output, first met in November 2008 to forge a united front against the global financial crisis.
A decade on, that unity has vanished as the “America First” Trump shreds the consensus underpinning international trade and other G20 countries such as Brazil, Italy and Mexico turn to populist leaders.
Trump has repeatedly shown his disdain for international summitry by blocking final communiques at other recent gatherings such as the G7 and the Asia-Pacific bloc APEC.
G20 sources said agreement about the communique in Buenos Aires was hitting trouble on climate change. Trump now has an ally on that issue in Brazil’s incoming, far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, their skepticism defying scientists’ increasingly urgent warnings that the planetary threat is real and needs policy redress now.
Thomas Wright, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said “there’s a deep division in this G20 now between democracies and authoritarians.”
“Now I think it’s really been stripped bare,” he said, adding there was an opening for a leader like Macron or Canada’s Justin Trudeau to make a splash in Argentina by standing up for liberal values.
Meanwhile the US, Canada and Mexico are expected in Buenos Aires on Friday to sign a revamped version of the North American trade pact NAFTA, which Trump excoriated when running for president.
If that negotiation has averted one trade war, the IMF said Trump’s threatened auto tariffs on Europe and Japan could lop three-fourths of a percent off the global economy.
Britain’s “Brexit” separation from the European Union is another threat to global growth, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said.
Like Trump and Xi, Prime Minister Theresa May will arrive in Buenos Aires late on Thursday to bring another intriguing subplot to the world’s pre-eminent economic forum.
Britain and Argentina went to war over the Falkland/Malvinas islands in 1982, and May will be the first serving British leader ever to visit the Argentine capital.
In the here and now, May will use the G20 to sell Britain’s post-Brexit trading future outside the EU.
But Trump has done her no favors by mocking a hard-fought withdrawal agreement negotiated between London and Brussels, and May still has to win backing for the deal from the fractious British parliament.