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US, global partners wrestle over free trade stance

US, global partners wrestle over free trade stance

The gathering Friday and Saturday in the southern German resort town of Baden-Baden will help set the tone for worldwide commerce and finance and will give Mnuchin a chance to clarify what the US position is.

Finance ministers and central bank governors of the world's top 20 economies are meeting in the spa town of Baden-Baden in Germany to discuss world economic issues and will publish a joint communique on Saturday.

The U.S. and Germany have come to blows over both trade policy and the euro's exchange rate since U.S. President Donald Trump's administration took office in January. This included executive orders withdrawing the USA from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and ordering a review of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

G20 financial leaders, however, reaffirmed their a commitment to refrain from competitive currency devaluation, a key agreement as the USA has repeatedly complained that some of its trade partners are using artificially devalued currencies to gain a trade advantage.

Sources said the USA delegation could not commit as they had not been given instruction from Washington to do so at the meeting in the western German spa town of Baden-Baden.

But as an offer of some reassurance, Mr Trump and Steven Mnuchin, the United States trade secretary, said this week that they don't want to start a trade dispute and that the USA is not pursuing isolationist goal.

Finance ministers from the world's biggest economies have ditched an anti-protectionist commitment following opposition from the US.


Trump and other critics of free trade argue that it can cause jobs, such as in the labor intensive manufacturing sector, to move to lower-cost countries.

The statement issued by finance ministers at the G20 meeting was milder than 2016's.

Some advocates, like the International Monetary Fund, readily concede that the benefits of free trade have been uneven across societies, as less skilled workers lose out and the better trained prosper.

Host German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble however struck a conciliatory tone, noting that in the USA the matters of finance and trade were divided in two portfolios. "But it wasn't clear what one or another meant by that", he said.

The G-20 groups Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

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

The U.S. Treasury Department said Mnuchin and Aso underscored the need to "work closely and constructively" to foster strong global economic growth.


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