Opening the first-ever G20 summit to be hosted in South America, President Mauricio Macri called on the world’s most powerful leaders to act “with the same sense of urgency” as in the 2008 financial crisis yesterday, as he emphasised the importance of multilateralism in a world rife with differences.
Acknowledging the “tensions between our countries” as he addressed world leaders at Costa Salguero, the president thanked the attendees for their “support and recognition” as Argentina came in from the cold and stepped onto the world stage.
However, the divisions among the world’s leading economies were evident from the moment the summit started, as reports emerged that the United States has been blocking progress on fixing world trade rules, fighting climate change and tackling migration.
According to European officials involved in the discussions, the US – under the leadership of Donald Trump – was stymieing progress on the summit final communiqué, with deep divisions evident over what language to use on the Paris climate accord and the World Trade Organisation, with the US president reportedly more concerned on making his own trade deals.
Meanwhile, two men under heavy criticism from the West lately — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — appeared to seek refuge in each other, bonding with a tough-guy hand grab as the leaders sat down around a huge round table for talks.
Security concerns also weighed on the two-day talks in Buenos Aires. Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said eight gasoline bombs were discovered in an area of the capital several miles from the summit venue where a protest in the afternoon drew thousands of demonstrators who held up banners with slogans like “Go away G20” and “Go away Trump.”
As talks over the final statement stalled, an unorthodox solution was emerging: because of resistance from the Trump administration, an official in the French president’s office said the statement may have language that sets the US apart. For example, a draft says 19 of the participants agree on the importance of upholding the Paris climate accord – but that Washington doesn’t. The officials, speaking to the AP news agency, also said the US was also blocking any mention of migration in the final statement.
Some Argentine officials remained optimistic. Laura Jaitman, a key Treasury official who has been heavily involved in the G20 events this year, said Trump is “very active and committed” in talks.
Asked about the European concerns, a US official said progress was being made on the joint statement and the White House was “optimistic” about the document as a whole.
Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said trade talks were moving forward and nations were continuing to work on climate change wording.
“All issues being discussed at the summit have the same relevance,” he told reporters. “We are debating [trade and climate change] more closely because we want to reach the consensus of all the countries involved.”
Faurie added however that the final communiqué does not require the signature of presidents.
Despite Trump’s dismissal of concerns about global warming, China, France and the United Nations came together Friday to pledge their support for the Paris climate accord. Their declaration was meant to encourage other G20 members to do the same, and to provide a boost for an upcoming UN climate summit.
Germany was lacking from that push, after Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived late, after “technical” problems with her plane forced her to turn around and return home. She later arrived in Buenos Aires on a commercial flight.
The summit is meant to focus on issues such as labour, infrastructure, development, financial stability, climate sustainability and international commerce. But as the gathering got underway, those themes seemed like afterthoughts, overshadowed by contentious matters from the US-China trade dispute to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Also looming large amid dozens of bilateral meetings in Buenos Aires: the gruesome slaying of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate and how the Saudi crown prince, who is alleged to have ordered the killing, is received by world leaders.
As soon as he arrived, Saudi crown prince Bin Salmanwas confronted by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Bin Salman told Macron not to worry, but Macron countered simply: “I am worried.”