G20 financial leaders row back on free trade pledge

By Michael Nienaber and Joseph Nasr

By Michael Nienaber and Joseph Nasr

BADEN BADEN, Germany (Reuters) - The world's financial leaders rowed back on a pledge to keep an open and inclusive global trade system after being unable to find a suitable compromise with an increasingly protectionist United States.

Making only a token reference to trade in their communique, finance ministers and central bank chiefs from the world's top 20 economies broke with a decade-long tradition of endorsing open trade, a clear defeat for host nation Germany, which has fought to maintain the G20's past commitments.

In the new U.S. administration's biggest clash yet with the international community, G20 finance chiefs also rowed back on a pledge to support climate change finance, an anticipated outcome after U.S. President Donald Trump called global warming a "hoax".

"We are working to strengthen the contribution of trade to our economies," G20 finance chiefs said after a two-day meeting in the German resort town of Baden Baden, well short of a past commitment for rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open and inclusive multilateral trade.

Seeking to put "America first", Trump has already pulled out of a key trade agreement and proposed a new tax on imports, arguing that certain trade relationships need to be reworked to make them fairer for U.S. workers.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who represented the Trump administration in his first G20 meeting, earlier said it had no desire to get into trade wars but trade needed to be made fairer, a reference to big trade deficits with key G20 members, such as Germany and China.

After meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, Trump said he did not believe in isolationism but that trade policy should be fairer.

International trade makes up almost half of global economic output and officials said the issue could be revisited at a meeting of G20 leaders in July.

CLIMATE CHANGE ALSO MISSING

The communique also dropped a reference, used by the G20 last year, on the readiness to finance measures against climate change as agreed in Paris in 2015, because of opposition from the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Trump has suggested global warming was a "hoax" concocted by China to hurt U.S. industry and vowed to scrap the Paris climate accord aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump's administration on Thursday proposed a 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency's budget as the White House seeks to eliminate climate change programmes and trim initiatives to protect air and water quality.

Asked about climate change funding, Mick Mulvaney, Trump's budget director, said on Thursday: "We consider that to be a waste of money."

The G20 did, however, show continuity in its foreign exchange policies, using past phrases on currency markets.

"We reaffirm our previous exchange rate commitments, including that we will refrain from competitive devaluations and we will not target our exchange rates for competitive purposes," the G20 said.

Leaders also upheld their commitments to financial sector regulation, supporting the finalisation of bank rules known as Basel III, provided they do not significantly raise overall capital requirements.

(Additional reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Writing by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Dale Hudson and Hugh Lawson)

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