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G20 makes slow progress on communique amid 'difficult' talks

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By Jean-Baptiste Vey and Cassandra Garrison

PARIS/BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Officials from the Group of 20 leading industrialized nations gathered in Argentina are making slow progress in drafting a final communique for this weekend’s leaders summit, amid disagreements over language on trade and climate change, delegates said.

Representatives from the G20 countries known as “sherpas” began meeting in Buenos Aires on Monday to start intensive discussions around the communique, a non-binding agreement on policy issues that is due to be unveiled at the conclusion of the two-day summit, which begins on Friday.

G20 leaders have met each year since the 2008 global economic crisis to try to reach broad agreement on important issues such as trade. But increasingly they have been bedeviled by disunity, and a failure to agree on a communique this year would underscore growing divisions at a time of heightened international trade disputes.

“The talks are difficult but that is not a surprise,” a European source told Reuters on Tuesday. “Concerning the progress on the statement, the talks are still ongoing so it is difficult to predict the outcome.”

A French finance ministry source added: “It’s true the situation is quite frankly rather tense. The outcome in the coming days is quite uncertain.”

A second source at the finance ministry said U.S. officials were pushing back on any mention of the Paris Climate Agreement.

After signalling its intention to withdraw from the accord last year, the United States broke with other G20 member countries that have pledged to end coal usage and take steps to reach goals outlined in the accord.

The French are also pushing for the communique to reject protectionism and commit to reforming the World Trade Organization and the rules of global commerce, the second French source said.

An Asian delegate told Reuters there was no progress made on Monday after a half-day session. A delegate from Latin America, who also requested anonymity, said a definitive draft was not expected until Thursday.

“We are in full negotiation with the other delegations. The text will be known once the leaders approve it,” Argentina’s Pedro Villagra Delgado, the lead organizer or “sherpa” of the G20, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Villagra Delgado had said on Nov. 15 that climate change, steel and migration had emerged as the “most complicated” areas of discussion, delaying final approval on the communique.

Recent history suggests the sherpas will struggle to agree to reach consensus.

Officials from countries attending a major Asia-Pacific summit earlier this month failed to approve a joint communique for the first time as the United States clashed with China over trade and security.

In May, U.S. President Donald Trump rejected a statement by fellow leaders of the G7 industrialized economies after a tense gathering ended in acrimony, again over tariffs and trade.

Some sherpas have said this year’s G20 communique will likely be watered down to try to ensure approval from Trump, an avowed sceptic of man-made climate change who has adopted protectionist trade policies and a more isolationist foreign policy.

Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said on Tuesday it was unclear whether there would be a final communique.

“If we didn’t get one, there’d be no tears shed,” he said.

(Reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey and Leigh Thomas in Paris, Andreas Rinke in Berlin, Cassandra Garrison in Buenos Aires; writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Ross Colvin and Bill Berkrot)

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