Battle lines drawn for G20 summit

US President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump
Image: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

US President Donald Trump jetted to Argentina on Thursday for a G20 summit, keen to do battle with China on trade and sharpening his rhetoric over Ukraine against Russia ahead of a meeting with its leader, Vladimir Putin.

The weekend summit is confronted with increasingly dire warnings, by the International Monetary Fund among others, of the potential harm faced by the world economy from Trump’s trade wars.

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 already rattled global markets by enacting tariffs on the bulk of Chinese imports, and is threatening to go further in January. He will press Chinese President Xi Jinping to avert the stepped-up tariffs by throwing open China’s markets to US competition and protecting foreign companies’ intellectual property.

Xi did vow on Wednesday that China would boost protection of intellectual property.

But foreign firms in China complain such promises are routine and ring hollow.

At best, analysts say, there will be a temporary truce at the G20 to give both Trump and Xi something to crow about.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned against the risk of “a tete-a-tete between China and the US and of a destructive trade war for all” ahead of the summit.

Despite doubts that a separate planned encounter at the G20 between Trump and Putin would go ahead, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday Washington had confirmed the meeting.

Trump had threatened to cancel the meeting.

He did so when he expressed deep concern over a weekend incident near Crimea in which Russian security forces boarded and detained three Ukrainian vessels.

But Peskov said there would be brief talks between the leaders, followed by broader Russia-US talks.

The US, Canada and Mexico are expected 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, others are brewing with Trump threatening to impose tariffs on foreign car imports.

Britain’s “Brexit” is another threat to global growth, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May will use the G20 to sell Britain’s post-Brexit trading future outside the EU.

Thomas Wright, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said there was an opening for a liberal leader like Macron or Canada’s Justin Trudeau to make a splash in Argentina by standing up to Trump. –