`America first' shakes up G-20
Trump trade attitude stokes concerns over American protectionism
At a meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 industrialized and emerging nations and the European Union, Steven Mnuchin, attending his first major international gathering as Treasury secretary, signaled that U.S. policy would follow the campaign promises made by President Donald Trump to put "America first" and review existing trade agreements to seek better deals for the United States.
As a result, the ministers' joint statement, normally a study in blandness, became an unlikely focus of controversy here. The representatives could agree only on a tortured compromise stating, in effect, that trade is a good thing. Adjectives such as "open" were dropped, and the ministers omitted language used in previous communiqu s that condemned protectionism, repudiating decades of free trade doctrine.
For Asian and European officials, many of them meeting their Trump administration counterparts for the first time, it was a startling lesson in how Trump and his team are overturning long-held assumptions about international commerce.
Mnuchin led off the ministers' meeting Friday with a declaration that current trade rules were unfair to the United States, positioning the administration against virtually all the other participants, according to an official who attended the closed session and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.
"We thought that it was very important for the communiqu to reflect what we discussed here," Mnuchin said at a news conference Saturday. "The historical language was not relevant."
At the insistence of the United States, the communiqu also dropped a pledge to observe the Paris accords on climate change. Mnuchin deflected questions on the issue, saying it was outside his purview.
The U.S. government's lack of reverence for existing norms and treaties is particularly unsettling to the change-averse Europeans, who are coping with weak economic growth and a surge in populism. The last thing they need is a disruption in commerce with their biggest trading partner.
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