G20 summit hits low bar for unity among nations

The Financial Times of London: G20 summits are falling into a pattern. Osaka, Japan, this weekend looked much like a rerun of Buenos Aires seven months ago.

U.S. President Donald J. Trump ratchets up his tariff war with China as the meeting approaches, then agrees with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to a truce and a resumption of talks. Leaders just about agree on a communiqu that restates commitments to the Paris climate change accord, but a separate paragraph lays out objections to it from the United States. The paper barely covers the cracks.

The de-escalation of U.S.-China trade tension has already been hailed by business leaders and, most likely, by financial markets. Mr. Trump’s pledge to hold off further tariffs on Chinese goods while negotiations continue is welcome. His agreement to allow U.S. companies to continue to sell products to Huawei, the Chinese telecoms group, is a sizeable concession. The details, however, are unclear – as is what the U.S. president received from the Chinese side in return beyond a promise to buy, in Mr. Trump’s words, a “tremendous amount” of U.S. farm products.

Yet an agreement to keep talking, without undoing any tariffs already imposed, constitutes a depressingly low bar for celebration. There is, moreover, little reason to assume the cease-fire will last much longer than that agreed in December.

The breakdown in May showed talks are running into each side’s red lines. Beijing is resisting Mr. Trump’s insistence that it amend domestic legislation to ensure government departments abide by promises to curb their trade-distorting interventions in China’s economy, saying this infringes its sovereignty. The Trump administration is balking at Chinese demands to lift all tariffs once a deal is agreed, not once Beijing implements it.

Mr. Trump has, in the meantime, opened a new front by restricting American companies’ sales to Huawei and other Chinese technology companies -- suggesting Washington aims to bifurcate the global market. Despite his partial weekend pullback on Huawei, the new technology cold war may still block any broader bilateral trade deal.


The US president’s warm words for Mr. Xi might be explained as tactful diplomacy.

Yet Mr. Trump seemed worryingly less interested in meeting allies in Osaka than in hanging out with autocrats. He bantered with Russia’s Vladimir Putin about meddling in U.S. elections. He contradicted his own intelligence services by suggesting “nobody‚â.‚â.‚â.‚âhas pointed directly” at Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the murder of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

He capped his trip Sunday with an all-smiles photo-op with Kim Jong Un in the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean peninsula. It fell once again to Emmanuel Macron to play the anti-Trump.

The French president corralled G20 leaders into endorsing a communiqu calling the Paris agreement on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions irreversible. Despite dissent from the United States, the risk of Turkey and Brazil joining Mr. Trump in rejecting the Paris deal was averted.

The most notable success was the trade agreement, 20 years in the making, between the EU and Mercosur, the South American trading bloc. This has been difficult because of the trade involved — agriculture in Mercosur and manufacturing in Europe are particularly protected sectors.

The deal bodes well for talks with New Zealand and Australia. Along with a trade agreement reached with Vietnam on Sunday, the deal confirmed EU leadership on trade liberalization. It showed, too, that despite the retreat from multilateralism of the United States, long its main pillar and proponent, international co-operation is still functioning - even if only just functioning.

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