The G20 Communiqué Bookends the George H.W. Bush Era

Marcos Brindicci / Reuters

The joint communiqué addressed U.S. concerns about trade, but that there was an agreement at all was significant.  

Marcos Brindicci / Reuters

It is somewhat fitting that G20 leaders agreed on a statement hours after the death of George H. W. Bush. In normal times, Saturday’s announcement in Argentina would hardly be unusual. Diplomats negotiate the agendas and communiqué of such meetings for weeks and months before national leaders affix their signatures to them.

The Trump administration has been loath to support statements in favor of global trade or efforts to combat climate change. Bush, who died late Friday, was, by contrast an architect of the post-Cold War-era world order, an arch proponent of free trade and a committed multilateralist. The system—built in part by the 41st American president—is now in peril because it appears that the 45th believes it is unfair to the United States. Donald Trump says he believes in what he describes as fair trade, and has levied hefty tariffs on American trading partners, including Western allies, in an attempt to revive employment in the U.S. manufacturing sector. (Most economists call this worldview flawed.)

The G20, which draws together economies as diverse as Canada’s, South Africa’s and Saudi Arabia’s, on Saturday agreed to reform the World Trade Organization and recognized the benefits of multilateral trade, but failed for the first time to speak out against “protectionism”: a concession to President Trump. Additionally, the group agreed to implement the Paris climate accord, but noted that Washington “reiterates its decision to withdraw.

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