US, global partners wrestle over free trade stance

The Trump Administration's America First policy had global implications on Saturday, as the Group of 20 finance ministers failed to agree on free trade and dropped any mention of climate change from their joint statement.

The world's top economic powers also failed to agree on a joint position explicitly opposing trade protectionism amid pushback from the United States government.

U.S. President Donald Trump has accused Japan of devaluing the yen. 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).

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

But Mnuchin suggested that the U.S. may in future look to renegotiate long-standing deals, including those agreed within the framework of the WTO.

They also said the US delegation at the G-20 was routinely checking back with its counterparts in Washington on certain issues, leading some Europeans to wonder with whom they were negotiating, Mnuchin or Trump.

Chinese finance minister Xiao Jie said his country would "unswervingly oppose trade protectionism".

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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 historical language was not relevant", he told journalists after the gathering of finance ministers and central bankers in Baden Baden, western Germany.

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.

German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble said Mnuchin was at an "impasse" with others in the group about what to say, so they chose to say nothing. It's completely clear we are not for protectionism.

But the differences between the two were laid bare as Merkel took the opportunity to push back against Trump's calls for individual trade deals with European countries, suggesting instead that the White House "come back to the table and talk" about a stalled US-European Union pact. Before the group meeting, the two talked for about 35 minutes in the first face-to-face between finance ministers of Japan and the USA since the inception of the new administration in Washington. Without mentioning a country by name, he said, "Maybe one or the other important member state needs to get a sense of how worldwide cooperation works".

The outcome of the first face-to-face talks between Aso and Mnuchin could be a relief to Japanese officials concerned about the US piling pressure on Japan over currency policy.

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