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WORLD | 21-07-2018 10:19

Trade conflicts loom large over G20 summit

Global trade conflicts triggered by the protectionist policies of US President Donald Trump are set to dominate this weekend’s meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank chiefs in Buenos Aires.

Global trade conflicts reignited by the protectionist policies of US President Donald Trump are set to dominate this weekend’s meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors in the nation’s capital.

However, as high-profile government officials from across the world and representatives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – including the organisation’s director Christine Lagarde – arrived in Buenos Aires yesterday, the focus was very much local.

Lagarde’s first official activity after arrival was meeting with the new head of Argentina’s Central Bank, Luis Caputo, and Treasury and Finance Minister Nicolás Dujovne, where they discussed the government’s next steps under the framework of its US$50-billion stand-by agreement with the IMF and bid to curb the fiscal deficit. She later dined with President Mauricio Macri at the Olivos presidential residence.

The IMF chief’s main focus, however, is the summit. Prior to her arrival, Lagarde warned that increasing trade restrictions pose “the greatest near-term threat” to the world economy, despite projected growth of 3.9 percent through 2019.

She also warned Trump on Wednesday that “the US economy is especially vulnerable” due to “retaliatory measures.” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is set to “respond to concerns on US trade policies” at the meeting, officials in Washington said.

IMF economists say that in a worst case scenario US$430 billion, a half point, could be cut off global GDP in 2020 if all tariff threats and retaliation are implemented.

On the sidelines of the wider meetings, Group of Seven officials will also hold a one-hour session to again discuss what the United States dubs “China’s economic aggression.”

The future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is also expected to come up in the main meeting, with high-stakes negotiations underway between the United States, Mexico and Canada to revamp the pact.

But unlike June’s G7 summit in Quebec, where Trump pulled his support for the joint communique, the meeting is expected to produce a common statement agreed by all, although perhaps one watered down on the question of protectionism, at the US’s behest.

‘TENSIONS’

During the group’s first meeting of the year in Buenos Aires in March, ministers were at pains to agree on a statement that proffered the bland acknowledgement that “economic and geopolitical tensions” threatened global growth.

And that was before Trump launched a raft of measures targeting US imports.

He imposed steep tariffs on steel and aluminum, angering allies such as the EU, Canada and Mexico, and prompting swift retaliation.

He also hit China with 25 percent duties on US$34 billion in goods, with another US$16 billion on the way, and another US$200 billion could be targeted as soon as September.

Last weekend he upped the ante by describing the EU as a “foe” and reiterating a previous claim that the bloc has “really taken advantage of us on trade.”

But the gathering won’t exclusively focus on the United States, and its current strained relations with much of the rest of the G20.

‘DELICATE SITUATION’

Minister will also tackle the economic crises threatening a number of emerging markets -- including host nation Argentina, which recently secured a US$50-billion IMF loan to try to stabilise its economy, after the peso plunged 35 percent between April and June.

“The situation facing certain emerging markets is more delicate with the rise of the dollar and the question of capital flows,” a French source told the AFP nes agency.

As well as the dollar, rising oil prices and US interest rates has helped fuel the capital flight from emerging economies such as Brazil and Argentina, with investors taking out US$14 billion between May and June.

Economist Rubens Barbosa, former Brazilian ambassador to Washington and London, says Brazil will try to defend multilateralism in international trade – notably as upheld by the World Trade Organisation.

“In Buenos Aires, what will be on the table is protectionism and the strengthening of the WTO from the point of view of emerging countries such as Brazil,” he said.

Amidst such tensions, ministers will discuss the upsurge in debt amongst the poorest countries in the world, but not everyone believes there is a genuine resolve to do what’s best for others.

“If you analyze attentively the final communiques of these groups, historically they only showed what was agreed upon,” sad Nicolás Albertoni, a Uruguayan researcher at the University of Southern California.

“Now, they also highlight what wasn’t agreed upon, which demonstrates a rise in nationalism. Now, governments don’t consider reaching agreement a success, but rather preventing it.”

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