US says global trade must be fair as well as free

Author

19 March, 2017

Ministers from G20 nations have gathered in the picturesque western German spa town of Baden Baden since Friday for a meeting clouded by fears of growing protectionism fuelled by Trump's stance.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin opened the first session of the two-day meeting, attended by members of the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank as well as central bankers and finance ministers.

The conspicuous omission came amid a push by US President Donald Trump to pursue an "America First" policy that includes penalising companies that manufacture overseas by heavily taxing their products.

Both China and Germany have found themselves in the crosshairs of United States criticism over their massive trade surpluses.

"Our objective is getting more balanced trade agreements", he said, confirming that having border adjusted taxes is an option.

The U.S., represented by Steven Mnuchin in his first appearance at an global forum as Treasury Secretary, argued that trade arrangements need to be made fairer, in line with the administration's claims the U.S. has had a bad deal from the current setup.

Threats posed by excess currency volatility have been emphasised by the finance ministers and central bankers of the top 20 global economies or G20 at their ongoing meeting in Germany.

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The world's biggest economies have dropped a long-standing public endorsement of free trade at their first meeting with the Trump administration. "We are for free, regulated global trade, with rules respected by everyone". Those could include targeted job training and education.

"We think there are parts of the WTO that are not being enforced and will look to aggressively enforce things in the interest of American workers, and to the extent the agreements are old agreements and need to be renegotiated, we'll consider that as well", he added. He welcomed Mr Mnuchin's language as a "very good message", but conceded that not all differences would be addressed at the G20 meeting that ends on Saturday.

The failure by ministers to agree on trade and climate action was met with dismay by France, whose Finance Minister Michel Sapin said: "I regret that our discussions today were unable to reach a satisfying conclusion". "It was totally undisputed that we are against protectionism".

The G-20 is an informal forum on economic cooperation made up of 19 countries with more than 80 percent of the world economy, plus the European Union.

So all eyes were on what Mnuchin might say as he attends his first global conference as US treasury secretary.

The finance ministers' meeting will pave the way for a summit of national leaders in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7 and 8.


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