G20 leaders arrive in Argentina, talks on communique ‘very, very difficult’

People talk to members of Argentina's National Gendarmerie in a secured area, ahead of the Group 20 summit, in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 29, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – G20 member nations were still struggling to reach agreement on major issues including trade, migration and climate change as world leaders began arriving in Buenos Aires ahead of a summit starting on Friday.

Argentina, this year’s G20 president, has stressed the importance of the summit as a consensus-building forum. But the divisions on the final communique have only highlighted how fractured the grouping has become on key global issues.

“It’s moving very very slowly – so slowly that I think we will have to stay in this room past midnight, again,” an Asian delegate who was attending the closed-door discussion told Reuters.

Financial markets though are less concerned about the ability of the leaders to present a united front and more anxious about the outcome of key bilateral meetings. Wall Street edged lower on Thursday amid jitters over Trump’s meeting with Xi.

Trump said on Thursday he was open to a trade deal with China but was not sure he wanted one.

“I think we’re very close to doing something with China but I don’t know that I want to do it,” Trump told reporters.

Trump’s hardline trade adviser, Peter Navarro, will attend the meeting between Trump and Xi, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters.

China, for its part, is hoping for “positive results” in resolving the trade dispute with the United States, the commerce ministry said on Thursday.

The United States has levied additional duties of between 10 percent and 25 percent on $250 billion of Chinese goods this year as punishment for what it calls China’s unfair trade practices, with the 10 percent tariffs set to climb to 25 percent next year. China has responded with its own tariffs.

NO PUTIN MEETING

One leader Trump will not be seeing in a one-to-one meeting is Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump abruptly announced he was canceling their planned bilateral talks, citing Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian vessels, shortly after he departed Washington for Buenos Aires.

“Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin,” he tweeted.

Roughly an hour earlier, he had told reporters he would probably meet with Putin at the summit and said it was “a very good time to have the meeting.” The White House said Trump made the final decision to cancel the meeting while aboard Air Force One.

This year’s G20 summit is also grappling with how to handle the presence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler arrived in Buenos Aires on Wednesday under a cloud of controversy over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri said the allegations against bin Salman may be discussed during the G20 summit. Saudi Arabia has said the prince had no prior knowledge of the murder.

Macri was speaking at a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, who said Khashoggi’s murder was “very serious.”

As the leaders arrived, Argentine security forces began locking down the central business district in Buenos Aires on Thursday. Streets and shops were noticeably emptier.

The government has declared Friday a national holiday and urged the capital’s residents to leave to avoid travel chaos caused by the security lockdown. Major protests are also due on Friday.

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