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Trade war

G-20 statement drops 'fight protectionism' in win for Trump

US hails endorsement of WTO reform

Argentina's President Mauricio Macri holds a news conference at the final day of the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina December 1, 2018.   © Reuters

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Group of 20 leaders closed their two-day gathering here on Saturday, issuing a statement that cited the importance of multilateral trade, but without the words "fight protectionism," after the U.S. opposed the inclusion of them.

The commitment to resist, reject or fight protectionism had been staple phrases in past statements, but as in many recent multinational forums, the Trump administration has been pushing back against the use of the word as it seeks to adjust the imbalances it sees in the current global trading system.

The compromise text acknowledged that trade and investment are "important engines of growth, productivity, innovation, job-creation and development." But added that "the system is currently falling short of its objectives and there is room for improvement. We therefore support the necessary reform of the WTO [World Trade Organization] to improve its function and we will review progress at our next summit," pointing to the Osaka G-20 in 2019.

The reference to the WTO was inserted at the request of the U.S. A senior White House official called it a "great day" for the country, asserting that the communique "meets many of the U.S.'s biggest objectives," especially the inclusion of WTO reform.

"For the first time ever, the G-20 recognized the WTO is currently falling short of meeting its objectives and that it's in need of reform," the official told reporters on the sidelines of the event.

The official did not elaborate on the G-20's decision to omit wording about protectionism from the statement. But Argentina's President Mauricio Macri told reporters that many countries had wished for the words to be included, but the U.S. did not accept it.

Meanwhile, the senior White House official said China had committed at the G-20 to increase transparency on its infrastructure financing, and that it will ensure such lending does not lead to unsustainable levels of debt in the developing world.

The official said the G-20 leaders had called upon the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to better monitor the debts developing nations were incurring under China's infrastructure loans.

On climate change, the U.S. reiterated in the statement its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, while other G-20 members reaffirmed their commitment to implement the Paris deal.

"We will continue to tackle climate change, while promoting sustainable development and economic growth," the statement said.

The compromise on the statement was driven by diplomats eager to avoid another international conference closing without a final statement. Last month, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit could not issue a joint communique for the first time in its nearly 30-year history, as the U.S. and China collided over the language. 

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