For Europe The G-20 Summit Is About More Than Just Trump, Xi, And Putin
The media focus in recent days on whether President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin will meet one-on-one at the G-20 summit has somewhat overshadowed another important bilateral encounter in Buenos Aires. Many will be hoping that the Saturday night dinner between Trump and President Xi Jinping helps reduce trade and military tensions between the two global behemoths they lead.
At the same time, while the United States’ relations with Russia and China are of major importance, for Europe’s leaders the G-20 summit is more about preserving and strengthening the multilateral rules-based system. The EU epitomizes this system, which it has worked hard to build, alongside the United States. Today, however, Europe sees its transatlantic partner appearing to emphasize bilateral power relations instead.
Thus, while the EU leaders present in Buenos Aires may hope to use the occasion to reduce the trade tensions building between their countries and the United States, in particular over the Trump administration’s threat to raise tariffs on autos and auto parts from 2.5 percent to 25 percent, we can also expect some tough words reflecting the two sides’ very different approaches to a wide range of international matters.
Behind the scenes, the Europeans will certainly be working on the more immediate, if in some ways less important, trade tensions. The EU has collaborated closely with Japan to build a trilateral approach with the United States on strengthening the rules in the World Trade Organization (WTO) that could discipline some of China’s more egregious behavior on subsidies and technology transfer, which began in Buenos Aires at the WTO ministerial almost exactly a year ago. This initiative is sure to be mentioned when European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. While Tusk and Juncker may not meet with Trump, the auto tariffs are sure to be on the agenda when Chancellor Angela Merkel does.
Tellingly, Tusk and Juncker underscored the importance of multilateralism in their letter ahead of the summit to the heads of state and government of the 28 EU member states, six of whom will attend (French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, British Prime Minister Theresa May as G-20 members; Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of Spain, which is a permanent observer of the G-20; and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who was invited by the Argentinian presidency). In their letter, Tusk and Juncker highlighted the following several issues.
The G-20’s key role in promoting global confidence and growth (after all, the G-20 was born ten years ago to address the global financial crisis, and that remains a core mission).
Strengthening the multilateral rules-based trading system (Tusk and Juncker subtly criticize Chinese subsidies and other distorting measures as well as U.S. unilateral tariffs on steel, and perhaps on cars). Here, the EU will push its recent proposals to strengthen the WTO as a forum for negotiation, its rules (especially on industrial subsidies) and its dispute-settlement mechanism. The union feels strongly that the United States should stop blocking the appointment of new members of the WTO Appellate Body, a critical element of the dispute-settlement mechanism.
Addressing climate change, not least as the next meeting of the parties to the Paris climate accord will be held in Katowice, Poland, directly after the G-20 Summit. Here, in particular, the EU differs markedly from the Trump administration.
Promoting sustainable development, especially by implementing the G-20 Compact with Africa.
Harnessing the future of work, an issue that was highlighted during Canada’s presidency of the G-20, and one European leaders feel is important to stress to demonstrate an EU that protects its people.
Building a more resilient international financial system – again a core mission of the G-20 that the EU does not want to have sidelined. The European emphasis on the need to improve the global governance of international finance may not sit well with the U.S. delegation.
Combating terrorism, an area in which the G-20 has tried to do more, including with a specific statement at the 2017 Hamburg summit. (Paradoxically, the EU leaders are pushing for tougher implementation of international anti-money laundering rules, an area where some of their own banks have significant problems.)
Addressing migration, an area that has caused considerable political unrest in Europe (including by contributing in part to Brexit), although people flows have been significantly reduced in the past two years.
The Trump-Xi meeting will take some of the limelight away from these broader G-20 issues (especially in the U.S. press), but the European side believes – probably rightly – that they are even more important than a single bilateral meeting about U.S.-Chinese relations. One might say that the Europeans’ expectations for outcomes from this summit are low; nonetheless, they will try hard to keep the focus on the multilateral approach the G-20 was meant to embody as they celebrate its tenth anniversary.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.