Leaders of G-20 major economies jointly urged reform of global trading rules and greater efforts to fight global warming, in an agreement that showcased U.S. isolationism.
The Group of 20 nations' final 31-point communiqué expressed concern about the future direction of the World Trade Organization, or WTO, which U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to leave. It reaffirmed nations' commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, but pointed out Trump's plan to withdraw the United States from it.
The G-20, made up of the European Union and 19 nations including Brazil, China, Germany, India, Russia and the United States, also minimized references to migration and refugees.
And in a further bow to the Trump administration, the communiqué — negotiated all night before the summit's final day in Buenos Aires, Argentina — omitted any negative references to Trump's "America First" protectionist policies, which other nations view as a hindrance to the G-20's overall agenda of "fair and sustainable development."
The European Union played bridge-builder amid U.S.-China trade war tensions.
Trump and China's President Xi Jinping agreed after the summit on a 90-day truce in their trade battle. Trump put on hold his plans to raise tariffs at the start of 2019 on US$200 billion in Chinese goods, while Xi said China would buy U.S. products in sufficient numbers to reduce America’s huge trade deficit with China.
"International trade and investment are important engines of growth, productivity, innovation, job creation and development. We recognize the contribution that the multilateral trading system has made to that end," said the G-20 statement.
"The system is currently falling short of its objectives and there is room for improvement," it said, without providing much in the way of details. "We therefore support the necessary reform of the WTO to improve its functioning."
Potential ways to reform WTO will be on the agenda during the G-20’s next summit at Osaka, Japan in June. The G-20's final statement omitted mention of Trump's protectionism because of U.S. objections to the wording. Trump has harshly criticized WTO and taken aggressive trade stances against China and the European Union.
Leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States signed a new North American trade pact that requires lawmakers’ approval in the three countries. The signing by Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and outgoing Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was held on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.
The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement would replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump had pledged to overturn the NAFTA free-trade zone, calling it “perhaps the worst trade deal ever made.”
Climate agreement minus U.S.
Except for the United States, all other G-20 member nations and the E.U. backed the major United Nations-led climate conference getting underway in Katowice, Poland next week which aims to adopt a “rule book” for implementing the Paris treaty.
The final language of the communiqué noted a recent U.N. report warning the damage from global warming will be much worse than feared. The U.N.’s Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in October that nothing can protect the world against all of the most dangerous projections for global warming.
Advocacy groups such as WWF International praised the G-2o for reaffirming their Paris accord commitments.
“G-20 was always going to be an important indicator of political will going into the next round of U.N. climate talks," said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, leader of WWF’s global climate and energy practice.
"That leaders of 19 of the world's largest economies signed up to the Paris Agreement reaffirmed their commitment to its full implementation in the resulting communique is important," he said. "It is also a reflection of the Argentinian government rightly making climate an important topic on the agenda."
Greenpeace International's executive director, Jennifer Morgan, said the outcome reaffirms "the G-19 resolve" on climate, isolating the Trump administration and sending a strong signal to climate negotiators gathering in Poland.
"But while the G-19 held the line, what it must do now is step up action and prove that it has heard the voices of the vulnerable countries who only just last week at their own summit demanded accelerated climate action," she said. "Every country of the world will be gathered and called upon by the people to act on the latest climate science."
Russia's seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels and crews and Saudi Arabia's killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who had moved to the United States and wrote columns for The Washington Post, also fueled tensions at the summit.
Trump, citing Ukraine, canceled a meeting on the sidelines with Russian President Vladimir Putin. E.U. Council President Donald Tusk blamed Russia for its "aggression.”
Trump also did not meet with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who U.S. intelligence officials believe ordered Khashoggi's assassination. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the only G-20 leader who mentioned the journalist's killing during an official session, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
G-20 leaders and partners arrive at the Colón Theater (AN/G-20)