G20 plays down trade differences with Trump

WASHINGTON — Recent tensions between the U.S. and other major economies over trade did not reemerge during Friday’s meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors, fueling hopes global policy makers can avert an open dispute with the Trump administration over globalization, top German officials said.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann said there was wide agreement during the session about the importance of free trade.

“The general mood of the discussion was broad approval in the direction of free trade,” Schäuble told reporters after the meeting. Germany currently holds the G20 presidency and chaired Friday’s gathering, which was held on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund’s and World Bank’s spring meetings.

“Almost everybody underscored the importance of open markets and free market access,” Weidmann added.

Trade has emerged as controversial topic between the U.S. and other major economies following President Donald Trump’s threats to pursue a more protectionist approach, a move he believes would re-energize the American economy. Those tensions spilled into the open at the G20 finance ministers meeting in Germany last month after the U.S. insisted on dropping a pledge in the closing communiqué to support of free trade.

After meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin earlier in the day, Schäuble said he believed a “non-confrontational solution” could be reached with Washington over the trade question at the next G20 summit in July in Hamburg.

The influential German minister has previously rejected the Trump administration’s ideas for a border tax, calling it “the opposite of mainstream.” Yet on Friday, he struck a more conciliatory tone, stressing that he didn’t want to say anything that “would increase difficulties.”

Indeed, following the harsh rhetoric of recent months between the U.S. and Europe, in particular, officials took pains to highlight the G20’s consensus on core issues.

“One very important message from this meeting is that member states want to work together to address this politically very important issue of how to make globalization better for everybody in their countries,” Weidmann said.

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