The Group of 20 summit enters its crucial second and final day Saturday with hours left for diplomats to bridge divisions on major issues including world trade, climate change and tackling migration. The day will also see a highly anticipated meeting between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose nations have been embroiled in an escalating trade war with new U.S. tariffs on China goods set to take effect a month from now.
The divisions among the world’s leading economies were evident from the moment Argentina’s president opened the summit Friday with a call for international cooperation to solve the planet’s problems. Trump sought to use the gathering to make his own trade deals. Meanwhile, two men under heavy criticism from the West lately — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — appeared to seek refuge in each other, bonding with a tough-guy hand grab as the leaders sat down around a huge round table for talks.
Security concerns also weighed on the two-day talks in Buenos Aires. Argentina’s security minister said eight gasoline bombs were discovered in an area of the capital several miles from the summit venue where a protest in the afternoon drew thousands of demonstrators who held up banners with slogans like “Go away G-20” and “Go away Trump.”
Diplomats from the G-20 countries were haggling hard over a final joint statement, with disagreement over what language to use on the Paris climate accord and the World Trade Organization. Two European officials involved in the discussions said the U.S. was stymieing progress on both. So an unorthodox solution emerged: Because of resistance from the Trump administration, an official in the French president’s office said the statement may have language that sets the US apart. For example, a draft says 19 of the participants agree on the importance of upholding the Paris climate accord, but the US doesn’t.
The officials said the US was also blocking any mention of migration in the final statement. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the closed-door discussions. Asked about the European concerns, a U.S. official said progress was being made on the joint statement and the White House was “optimistic” about the document as a whole.
Laura Jaitman, the Argentine Treasury official shepherding the G-20’s financing talks, said leaders have made progress on finance and trade and was hopeful a joint statement would be possible. “There’s a very positive message of how trade has been an engine of growth for the next decades and how it will continue in the future providing benefits for all citizens,” Jaitman said.
Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said trade talks were moving forward and nations were continuing to work on climate change wording. “All issues being discussed at the summit have the same relevance,” he told reporters. “We are debating (trade and climate change) more closely because we want to reach the consensus of all the countries involved.” Faurie said the final communique does not require the signature of presidents.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri kicked off the summit by acknowledging divisions within the G-20 while urging world leaders to have a “sense of urgency” and take actions “based on shared interests.” European Council President Donald Tusk urged G-20 leaders to discuss “trade wars, the tragic situation in Syria and Yemen, and Russian aggression in Ukraine.” He said the European Union is expected to extend sanctions on Moscow over its “totally unacceptable” seizure of Ukrainian ships and their crews near the Crimean Peninsula.
Russia and Ukraine have traded blame over the weekend ship incident — which Trump cited in canceling a much-awaited meeting with Putin at the G-20. Russia’s foreign minister regretted the move, but said “love can’t be forced.”
Also looming large amid dozens of bilateral meetings in Buenos Aires was the gruesome slaying of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate and the participation at the summit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is alleged to have ordered the killing. As soon as he arrived, bin Salman was confronted by French President Emmanuel Macron, who pressed him on the Khashoggi investigation and the Saudi-backed war in Yemen.
Bin Salman told Macron not to worry, but Macron countered, “I am worried.” Saudi Arabia has denied that bin Salman played a role, but U.S. intelligence agencies concluded he ordered the killing. Leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico, meanwhile, met Friday morning to sign a trade deal replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement that was struck following months of tough negotiations that analysts say left a bitter taste among the partners.
Trump called the pact a “model agreement that changes the trade landscape forever.” It must still be ratified by lawmakers in all three countries, and passage in the US could face a tough road in the House of Representatives after Democrats won a majority in November midterm elections. While Trump canceled his meeting with Putin, the US president was still scheduled to meet with China’s Xi, but analysts were not optimistic about prospects for a major breakthrough on their countries’ trade disputes a month before US tariffs on Chinese goods are set to ramp up.