G20 fails to fight protectionism  

Kamal Uddin Ahmed   | Published: July 01, 2019 21:49:16 | Updated: July 01, 2019 21:58:49

The high-profile annual summit of Group of 20 (G20) nations was hosted by Japan - the third largest economy of the world for the first time from June 28 to 29, 2019 in Osaka. The leaders at the summit included 19 most prominent economies, the European Union (EU), and representatives of invited countries as well as international organisations.

The main objectives of the G20 are: (a) policy direction in order to attain global economic stability and sustainable growth; (b) to support financial strategies that reduce risks and prevent economic catastrophes; and (c) to fashion a new international financial architecture.

Established on  September 26, 1999, the G20 nations collectively represent over 85 per cent of the gross world product, 80 per cent of world trade, two-thirds of world population and 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. It remains the "premier forum for international economic cooperation."

In recent years, the world has been once more challenged with growing protectionism and trade disputes. As a result, the rules-based multilateral trading system has been under threat.

The trade conflicts between the world's two biggest economies and contentious issue of climate change were the topmost agenda at the G20 Osaka summit.

The current President of the G20, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while opening the Summit, expressed "deep concerns" over the state of global trade. Shinzo Abe urged the leaders to deliver a strong message to support "free, fair and indiscriminate" trade. He added that as a supporter of free trade, Japan would continually promote improvement of the multilateral trade system and economic collaboration. Other G20 leaders at the summit deliberated on a host of global challenges. While underscoring the importance of free trade, they voiced against protectionism and unilateral action.

The European Union leaders warned of the collateral damage of US-China trade frictions. Earlier, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), estimated that the tit-for-tit tariffs hikes would possibly slow global growth by about 0.5 per cent.

The Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a "fair, just, and non-discriminatory market environment" and cautioned against rising protectionism. He noted that Gulf region remained at the crossroads of war and peace.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that "international trade has suffered from protectionism, politically motivated restrictions and barriers."

In a joint-press conference along with delegates of France and the United Nations, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for urgent action to address climate change. All the 19 members of the G20, excluding the US, recommitted to the "full implementation" of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

President Donald Trump defended his position on climate change as well as pulling out of the US from the Paris Agreement in 2017 noting that it was "disadvantageous" for Washington.

However, the much anticipated trade talks between President Trump and President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit was the most crucial event of the Osaka meet. Both the US and China agreed not to proceed with new round of tariffs paving the way for an interim "trade war" truce.

President Trump decided to resume trade talks and would permit US companies to sell components to Chinese tech giant Huawei - labelled by market analysts a "substantial concession." This also reversed earlier claim by the US that Huawei poses a threat to national security.

The final communique called for united efforts to address key global economic challenges and cautioned about geopolitical tensions. The communique also mentioned that the leaders reached an agreement to deal with marine plastic waste. They pledged to reduce it to zero by 2050 - a positive outcome. The leaders also decided to end all forms of discrimination against women.

While the statement reaffirmed the broad thinking of G20 i.e., "the promotion of free and fair trade" as well as necessary reform of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), it failed to denounce protectionism and include it in the final declaration mainly due to US resistance.

Ostensibly, the G20's vital objective of "sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth" will continue to be impacted by protectionism and unilateralism as the politics of trade war and climate change lingers on.


Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed is a former Professor and Chairman, Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka. kamal112au@yahoo.com


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