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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press photos Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, talking with reporters at Trump Tower in November, will get his first opportunity to confront top U.S. trading partners, including China, Mexico and Germany, at the G-20 summit beginning today.

  • Employees roll out a red carpet during preparations for the G-20 summit of finance ministers that begins today in the southern German resort town of Baden-Baden.

Thursday, March 16, 2017 10:01 pm

US to confront trading partners

DAVID McHUGH | Associated Press

FRANKFURT, Germany – U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to get tough on trade partners like China, Mexico and Germany. Now his Treasury chief, Steven Mnuchin, will get his first opportunity to confront them all in one room.

The meeting of the most powerful economies’ finance ministers in Germany this week is likely to be dominated by talk about whether to commit to free trade, as previous meetings have – or implicitly accept that some countries may put up barriers, like tariffs, as Trump has promised.

The Group of 20 – 19 countries worth most of the global economy, plus the EU – are also due to discuss their longstanding ban on manipulating currencies to gain economic advantage. Weakening a currency can help a country’s exporters but can also end up dumping its troubles with business costs and competitiveness on its trade partners.

The gathering today and Saturday in the southern German resort town of Baden-Baden will help set the tone for international commerce and finance and will give Mnuchin a chance to clarify what the U.S. position is.

The focus will be on the final statement issued jointly by the finance ministers Saturday.

Last year’s gathering of the Group of 20 finance ministers in Chengdu, China, issued a statement opposing "all forms of protectionism." This time, such unequivocal language could be softened to refer to trade that is "open" and "fair," without the absolute opposition to import restrictions to benefit domestic workers.

Trump has repeatedly emphasized that the U.S. needs a tougher approach to trade that would put American workers and companies first.

He has already pulled the U.S. out of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement with Japan and other Pacific Rim countries, and he has started the process to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, both of whom are G-20 members.

Additionally, Britain is preparing to pull out of the European Union and its free-trade zone that permits cross border business without import and export taxes, or tariffs, after voters chose to leave in a referendum last year.

In a visit to Berlin ahead of the G-20 meeting, Mnuchin said the U.S. is interested in trade that is not only free but fair.