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G20 finance ministers ponder how strongly to defend free trade

Faced with Trump's threats, world financial leaders are seeking a common stance on trade and rejecting protectionism at the G20 meeting in Germany.

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G20 finance ministers ponder how strongly to defend free trade

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Trade and protectionism are the headline issues as finance ministers and central bank governors of the world’s 20 largest economies meet in Germany.

Point of view

It's about the openness of the world trade systems in the final communique

Wolfgang Schaeuble German finance minister

Finding a united front on protectionism could be difficult as the new administration of US President Donald Trump threatens border taxes to make imports more expensive.

In his public statements US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was being conciliatory: “It is not our desire to get into trade wars. It is our desire to deal with where there is imbalance in certain trading relationships, that we have a means to address that. And that’s something that is important. If you look at our economic policies again, it makes sense for us to readdress certain things.”

The meeting’s host, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, said “no one has mentioned protectionism” as the G20 participants worked on how strong a statement to make in support of free trade at the end of the two day meeting.

“It’s about the right wording, it’s about the openness of the world trade systems in the final communique,” Schaeuble said.

G20 officials said the United States was ready to accept a phrase backing “free and fair” trade, given that the meaning of “fair” was open to interpretation. Europe was keen on adding that trade should be “rules-based”, meaning subject to rules of the World Trade Organisation.

Comfort zone

The head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Angel Gurria, said the gathering could “create a comfort zone” for the first discussions with the new administration as they explore common ground and differences.

Gurria said: “At the G20 from the very beginning we have been promoting trade as an element of growth, as an element also that can detonate investment flows, which is very crucial for the growth of tomorrow.”