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The Journal Gazette

Friday, March 17, 2017 10:01 pm

G20 to address free-trade stance

DAVID McHUGH | Associated Press

BADEN-BADEN, Germany – Top finance officials including new U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are debating what stance to take on free trade at a meeting that will help set the tone for the global economy.

The gathering of finance ministers and central bank heads from the Group of 20 countries has focused on shifting attitudes toward trade, particularly after U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to impose border taxes and rewrite free-trade deals he says have shortchanged the U.S.

Mnuchin has said trade needs to be "fair," which would be a step back from the group’s previous blanket condemnation of trade barriers.

Attention at the two-day meeting in the German spa town of Baden-Baden has centered on a joint statement being prepared for today.

Early drafts have dropped an earlier ban on protectionism, but there was no agreement on what would replace it, said officials who briefed reporters Friday on condition of anonymity.

The meeting’s host, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, told reporters that the discussion was about "the right formulation regarding the openness of the world economy."

The last such gathering, in July 2016 in Chengdu, China, issued a strong statement in favor of free trade, saying, "we will resist all forms of protectionism." Possible replacements include support for "fairness."

Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, downplayed differences over the exact language. The OECD is one of several international organizations invited to participate in the meeting.

Gurria told The Associated Press it was "important to create a comfort zone" where leaders could have their first discussions with the new administration, "to make them feel that this is a place where we can talk, we can ventilate the areas where we have common ground and the areas where we may have differences."

European countries and others that depend on exports, such as China, were said to be pushing for a stronger statement in favor of trade with fewer tariffs and other barriers in a rule-based system.

The gathering will help set the tone for international commerce and finance and will give Mnuchin a chance to clarify what the U.S. position is.