Update: As we discussed earlier in the day, one of the two main questions heading into today's G-20 summit conclusion in Buenos Aires was whether the participants would agree on a consensus statement. The answer was revealed on Saturday afternoon, when Bloomberg reported that the Group of 20 nations agreed that "the current global trading system has flaws and needs reform", in a communique that however failed to reference protectionism for the first time, a key sticking point for the US delegation.
The G-20 representatives agreed to a rather token statement that warns of threats to growth from geopolitics and recognizes the benefits of multilateral trade. However, while excluding any mention of protectionism, the group committed to pursue reform of the World Trade Organization, according to a copy obtained by Bloomberg. The leaders are expected to sign the document later Saturday.
The communique welcomed “strong global economic growth while recognizing it has been increasingly less synchronized between countries” and members said they “note current trade issues.” They agreed that fiscal policy “should rebuild buffers where needed, be used flexibly and be growth-friendly, while ensuring public debt is on a sustainable path.”
While there were concerns whether the US would endorse the draft, these faded away when - in an apparent nod to President Trump's criticism - the document said that the WTO is "falling short of its objectives and there is room for improvement." Leaders would also discuss WTO reform at a meeting in June, according to Bloomberg.
In a further appeasement of the US delegation, the statement makes only one mention of climate change, even as it notes both the U.S. exit from the Paris Agreement and other countries’ ongoing support for the accord aimed at capping emissions blamed for global warming.
As Bloomberg concludes, the communique "caters widely to Trump’s America First policies, and leaves little doubt of deep divides among the leaders of the world’s biggest economies."
A senior White House official praised the document, particularly the language calling for WTO reform and changes to the global trading system. Inclusion of wording to explain Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate accord also was welcomed by the U.S., the official said.
The emergence of a consensus statement provides some relief to officials who feared a repeat of recent gatherings such as during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea, when no final statement was issued. Earlier this year, the G-7 Summit was similarly upended when the U.S. withdrew its support for the joint statement minutes after its formal publication.
Following the 'failed consensus' diplomatic disaster at APEC, it appears G-20 negotiators are desperate to avoid a repeat and, for now, have agreed on a draft declaration that includes a commitment to the "rules-based international order" and pledges to tackle the sources of refugee movements and reform the WTO.
The draft statement begins with a statement of principle the Europeans insisted on but the US found hard to swallow. It reads:
“We renew our commitment to work together to improve a rules-based international order that is capable of effectively responding to a rapidly changing world.”
The US delegation had opposed the positive reference to a “rules-based international order” as they argued the current system, governed by the WTO and IMF, is skewed against the US and has allowed China to get away with unfair trading practices.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the communique will include a commitment to multi-lateralism:
"I think the word multi-lateralism will appear [in the text]," Merkel said at the sidelines of the summit.
"This has to be fought for, but we are doing that."
She added that the participants agree reform of the World Trade Organization is needed.
"Everyone is in agreement that the WTO (World Trade Organization) should be reformed. That is an important agreement,” Merkel told reporters.
A crucial paragraph on trade expresses the compromise.
“International trade and invest are important engines of growth, productivity, innovation, job creation and development,” the provisional communique says.
“We recognise the contribution that the multilateral trading system has made to that end. The system is currently falling short of its objectives and there is room for improvement.”
Finally, Merkel noted - somewhat snarkily, that
"We will send a clear signal - in any case, most of us" for the success of global climate talks starting in Poland on Sunday.
The US stood by its decision to withdraw from the Paris climate deal.
“This is the minimum,” a European official said, arguing that to say nothing about the issues could set a precedent and remove them permanently from the G20 agenda. “The choice was really we do nothing. We will not hide our disappointment but at least we have something.”
Additional draft communique headlines include:
*G-20 COMMITS TO IMPROVE RULES-BASED INTERNATIONAL ORDER: DRAFT
*G-20 REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO STRENGTHENING GLOBAL SAFETY NET
*G-20 COMMUNIQUE DOES NOT MENTION THE WORD 'PROTECTIONISM'
*G-20 URGES IMF TO IMPROVE MONITORING OF PRIVATE, PUBLIC DEBT
*LARGE MOVEMENTS OF REFUGEES A GLOBAL CONCERN: G-20 STATEMENT
The draft communique now goes to the G-20 leaders for approval...
“For some of us around the table, we couldn’t backtrack on the DNA of the G20,” a European official said.
Failure to agree would have called into question the survival of the G20 as a forum for maintaining global economic stability, and could have accelerated the slide towards protectionism.
Finally we note that Trump, having cancelled his planned press conference, said he would proceed with the main event - the planned dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping - but added that the death of Bush “really puts a damper on it.”