The United States Speaks: G20 Without Free Trade And Climate Change


On March 18th, G20 leaders rejected a previous commitment for free trade and climate change. The decision is rooted in the pressure from US President Trump’s “America First” policy and his claims that climate change is a “hoax,” which have swayed the forum’s view on these two major goals. This is a stark contrast against the agreements made last year when the assembly was determined to “resist all forms of protectionism.”

G20 is a group of 20 countries that contribute to 80% of the world’s GDP, account for 75% of international trade, and constitute about 66% of the world’s population. The participating countries meet regularly to discuss global issues on “global economic growth, international trade, and financial market regulation.” They also cover other topics of worldwide importance, such as “climate change, development policy, labor market, …employment policy, the spread of digital technology and, topically, counter-terrorism.”

The decisions of the G20 finance ministers are announced after a two-day conference at Baden-Baden, Germany. Chinese representatives vocally supported anti-protectionism but were not able to convince Steven Mnuchin, the US-representative and Treasury Secretary. Michel Sapin, the French Finance Minister commented: “I regret that our discussions today were not able to reach a satisfactory conclusion on two priorities that are absolutely essential in today’s world.” Likewise, the EU Economic Affairs Commissioner, Pierre Moscovici, said: “I hope in Hamburg the wording will be different. We need it. It is the raison d’etre for the G20.”

Despite such opposition, which was apparent in the majority of the participating nations, Mr. Mnuchin was optimistic, stating that “we could not be happier with the outcome – we had consensus among the group.” Japan was one of the few countries who voiced a more positive opinion, whereas Saudi Arabia jointly denounced funding for tackling climate change.

It demonstrates how the view of a single powerful country is able to skew the entire forum away from its fundamental goals. The results show that the views of the majority are not always upheld and that the less economically powerful countries are implicitly forced to follow. Thus, the conclusions from such international meetings create a false impression that they were actually agreed on by the majority.

Moreover, countries are not legally bound to follow the conclusions from the G20 meetings. Despite this relatively relaxed situation, the US was still very vocal about its opinions and uncompromising to the views of the other countries. The outcome of the meeting is another example where President Trump’s “America First” policy can force its stance on any and every country, thereby presenting the US in a less amicable light as a consequence.

Mr. Mnuchin expressed that “we do have a new administration and a different view on trade.” It forecasts that the US opinions on the two primary goals of G20, free trade and climate change, are unlikely to change, as well the US will likely to be equally unyielding in the G20 summit in July. It definitely shifts the US from its previous pro-globalization to, its more recent, isolationistic image, likely providing a platform for other countries to be more inward-looking as well.