US President Donald Trump made clear on Friday his priority at a summit of Group of 20 leaders was trade deals to boost the US economy, as other leaders such as China’s Xi Jinping warned against protectionism and its threat to the global economy.
China and the United States are locked in a trade dispute and expectations have dimmed that Trump and Xi can ease tension when they meet on Saturday on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in the Japanese city of Osaka.
Asian shares stumbled and gold slipped during the day amid rising doubts that the highly anticipated meeting of the leaders of the world’s two biggest economies would bring progress in resolving their dispute.
Trump’s administration also has trade feuds with India and Japan, whose leaders he met on Friday.
Trump said he saw US trade prospects improving, days after criticising the US-Japan security treaty and demanding that India withdraw retaliatory tariffs.
“I think we’re going to have some very big things to announce. Very big trade deal,” Trump said at the beginning of talks with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Trump gave no details.
A White House official said the two leaders had called on their teams to work on mutually beneficial trade solutions.
Trump also made a push to discuss US concerns about Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei.
The United States has pressed its allies to shun Huawei in their fifth generation, or 5G, networks on security grounds, and it has also suggested it could be a factor in a trade deal with Xi.
“We actually sell Huawei many of its parts,” Trump said at his meeting with Modi. “So we’re going to be discussing that and also how India fits in. And we’ll be discussing Huawei.”
Growing friction, slowing growth
Several leaders, meanwhile, warned that the growing trade friction was threatening global growth.
“The trade relations between China and the United States are difficult, they are contributing to the slowdown of the global economy,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told a news conference.
Xi also warned about the protectionist steps he said some developed countries were taking.
“All this is destroying the global trade order ... This also impacts common interests of our countries, overshadows the peace and stability world wide,” Xi told a gathering of leaders of the BRICS grouping of nations on the sidelines of the G20 meet.
Modi, at the same meeting, called for a focus on reforming the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Russian President Vladimir Putin decried what he called efforts to destroy the Geneva-based body.
“We consider counter-productive any attempts to destroy WTO or to lower its role,” Putin said.
The situation of the global economy was worrying as trade was feeling the effect of “protectionism (and) politically motivated restrictions”, he added.
Russian Economy Minister Maxim Oreshin said there was no agreement on how to reform the WTO system, which Washington believes is operating on outdated rules, although a Japanese official said G20 members agreed on the importance of reform.
Oreshin said disagreements also persisted over climate change, wrangling over which has stymied talks in other forums since Trump pulled the United States out of a landmark agreement to limit its effects.
Trump, who often castigates trading partners on Twitter and at raucous political rallies, put a positive spin on trade developments with Japan.
“I appreciate the fact that you’re sending many automobile companies into Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania and North Carolina,” Trump told Japanese Prime Minister Abe, referring to U.S. states critical to his effort to win re-election next year.
‘Momentum towards reform’
Trump said the two leaders would also discuss Japanese purchases of US military equipment, although a Japanese official said later the topic did not come up.
Japan and the United States are engaged in difficult trade talks as Trump’s administration seeks to lower the US trade deficit.
Abe said his frequent meetings with Trump were “proof of the strong U.S.-Japan alliance”.
Abe later urged G20 leaders to send a strong message in support of free and fair trade, warning that trade and geopolitical tensions were rising and downside risks to the global economy prevailed.
“Today, I want to discuss with leaders measures to further enhance momentum towards reform in WTO,” he told them ahead of a working lunch.
Japanese Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer were to meet later in Osaka.
After the Trump-Abe talks, a Japanese official told reporters the leaders had agreed to accelerate trade talks and had agreed the alliance was stronger than ever.
Trump this week renewed his criticism of the US-Japan security alliance as unbalanced, a view Japan has rejected.
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