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G-20 navigates trade and political risks

The Group of 20 ended a two-day summit warning of risks to global growth but did not condemn protectionism, as U.S., Russian and Chinese leaders met.

The Group of 20 wrapped up a two-day summit warning of risks to global growth, but did not condemn protectionism. On the sidelines, U.S. President Donald Trump generated headlines meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and China's President Xi Jinping.

In a final statement, leaders of the G-20 major economies cited growing trade and geopolitical tensions as a threat to global growth, which they said appears to be stabilizing and is generally projected to pick up moderately later this year and into 2020.

"However, growth remains low and risks remain tilted to the downside," the G-20 final communiqué said. "Most importantly, trade and geopolitical tensions have intensified. We will continue to address these risks, and stand ready to take further action."

As host to the talks, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sought to play peacemaker between the Trump administration, which favors protectionism, and many other nations that have sought to calm the trade wars and tensions sparked by Trump's heavy-handed use of tariffs as a policy weapon.

The G-20 statement agreed that "international trade and investment are important engines of growth, productivity, innovation, job creation and development" but there is a need to reform the World Trade Organization "to improve its functions."

Last year the WTO, under mounting pressure from the Trump administration to justify its global rules and even its own existence, said it welcomed calls from the G-20 for significant changes in how the WTO operates.

As the only global international organization that deals with the rules of trade between nations, the 164-nation WTO has come under withering attacks from the Trump administration, which has withdrawn from a series of international organizations and treaties and threatened to pull the United States out of the Geneva-based global trade body.

On the sidelines, Trump and Xi agreed to restart trade talks and, for the time being, the United States decided it will not impose new tariffs on Chinese exports.

Mutual contempt

Trump and Putin shared their contempt for the Western-led liberal order, the world's news media and made light of the extensive Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Putin, a champion of populist movements in Europe, praised Trump for his nationalist stance. The Russian president said Trump’s election win resulted from opposition to liberal policies.

“The liberal idea has started eating itself,” Putin told a news conference. “Millions of people live their lives, and those who propagate those ideas are separate from them.”

While Putin and Trump met for the first time in almost a year, a reporter asked Trump whether he planned to warn Putin not to meddle in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. “Of course,” the U.S. president replied mockingly. Turning to Putin, Trump then facetiously said, “Don’t meddle in the election.” Putin laughed.

Trump also told reporters at a photo opportunity with Putin: “Get rid of them, fake news. You don’t have the problem in Russia. We have it; you don’t have it.” Putin replied: “Yes, yes, we have it. The same.” The two leaders laughed.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Trump's joking about election meddling amounted to an invitation to Russia to do it again. “President Trump is basically giving Putin a green light to interfere in 2020,” Schumer said.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter went further, saying he believed Trump was essentially an illegitimate president.

“There is no doubt that the Russians did interfere in the election,” Carter told a human rights talk in Virginia. “I think the interference, though not yet quantified, if fully investigated would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016. He lost the election and was put into office because the Russians interfered.”