All-night talks at the Group of 20 summit led to a possible “breakthrough” on fixing the global trading system, European diplomats in Argentina have said.
Despite deep divisions going into the summit and resistance from the United States, European Union officials were optimistic and said countries were making progress on a final statement that will acknowledge problems with the World Trade Organisation but commit to reforming it.
The US was the main holdout on nearly every issue, the officials said. US President Donald Trump has criticised the WTO and taken aggressive trade policies targeting China and the EU.
But China pushed back in talks on steel, South Africa objected to language on trade, Australia did not want the statement to be too soft on migration and Turkey worried it would push too far on climate change.
With trade tensions between the US and China dominating the summit, the European diplomats aimed to play the role of mediator.
They also scaled back their expectations, cutting out mention of rising protectionism — mainly aimed at President Trump — and agreeing to language on climate that says 19 leaders support the Paris climate accord and international efforts to reduce emissions, but the US does not.
The six-page draft statement says the 20 countries support the international trading system but acknowledge that the current system does not work and needs fixing, via reform of the WTO.
The European diplomats called this the “main breakthrough”.
On climate, the statement notes a recent UN report that warned damage from global warming will be much worse than previously feared, and expresses support for an upcoming UN climate meeting in Poland meant to nail down how countries will meet promises made in the Paris accord.
On migration, the US negotiator said too much talk about migration would have been a “deal-breaker” for President Trump, the European officials said.
So they came up with “minimalist” language that acknowledges growing migrant flows and the importance of shared efforts to support refugees and solve the problems that drive them to flee.
The statement also shows a commitment to a “rules-based international order”, despite President Trump’s rejection of many of those rules.
“There were moments when we thought all was lost,” one European official said, “moments when we spent two hours on one sentence”.
One country that was seen as particularly constructive was Russia, the officials said. Despite tensions over its military actions on Ukraine and political interference abroad, Russia supports international efforts on trade and climate.
While a statement is not legally binding, the Europeans see it as proof that the G20 is still relevant and that multi-lateralism still works.