Push for free trade

BUENOS AIRES – World financial leaders pleaded for an endorsement of free trade on Monday amid worries about US metals tariffs and looming trade sanctions on China, but Trump administration officials said they would not sacrifice US national interests.

The Buenos Aires meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors of the world’s 20 biggest economies was meant to discuss a brightening economic outlook, the future of work, cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, and corporate tax avoidance.

But trade dominated the discussions after President Donald Trump on March 8 announced global tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum.

Mr Trump is expected on Friday to announce new tariffs on up to $US60 billion ($F121b) worth of Chinese technology and consumer goods annually, to punish Beijing over its drive to acquire US intellectual property, sources told Reuters.

G20 officials fretted about the dangers that a potential trade war posed to world economic growth.

“The first risk is the risk of inward looking policies and protectionism,” European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici told reporters after the first day of talks. Protectionism could damage growth, he added.

A draft G20 communique seen by Reuters last week said something similar but it was not clear if it would be retained in the final version of the statement to be published on Tuesday and which has to be agreed by unanimity.

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin pushed back at the meeting, saying the US could not sacrifice its own interests so that the system worked.

“There’s no doubt that the secretary represents the president’s very strong view that we believe in free trade,” one US official told reporters.

“But the environment we’re in now, where the expectation is America totally subordinates its national interests in order for the free trade system to work, is just one we don’t accept. So, we’ve been very clear, we believe in free trade with reciprocal terms that leads to more balanced trade relationships,” he said.