BADEN-BADEN, Germany — Top finance officials including new 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 President 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 that is being prepared for Saturday.
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 the condition of anonymity.
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.”
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.
The G-20 is an informal forum on economic cooperation made up of 19 countries with more than 80 percent of the world economy, plus the European Union. The finance ministers’ meeting will pave the way for a summit of national leaders in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7-8.
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.