The recent G-20 summit in Germany saw a divergence on the main issues of anti-protectionist measures and global warming countermeasures. These issues were put forward by developed and emerging countries in spite of their tendency to oppose each other. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, continued a line of opposition. Might his "America First" policy hollow out international cooperation?
As a superpower and G-20 leader, the United States has a responsibility to build consensus on such issues. It is getting its priorities wrong by adopting a policy that isolates America and deepens rifts.
A phrase in the previous G-20 communique reiterating "opposition to protectionism on trade and investment in all its forms" has been toned down, with leaders now saying they will "continue to fight protectionism." The change came as leaders recognized "the role of legitimate trade defence instruments" with regard to unfair trade practices. However, each country can determine what is "legitimate," which leaves room for them to impose high tariffs. Leaders had no option but to make concessions to Trump, who has pushed protections for industries in his home country.
In their communique, leaders also stated that they would move swiftly toward full implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change without the U.S., which has announced its withdrawal from the agreement. This detachment highlights the divide between the U.S. and the 19 other G-20 members.
The G-20 is formed by countries at different stages of development and with different political systems. Their interests and values differ, so nations are susceptible to putting their own benefits first, making it difficult to consolidate their views. The reason that countries had aligned themselves on anti-protectionism and climate change countermeasures in the past was because doing so was essential for sustainable growth and world economic stability. They judged that international cooperation would lead to greater national gain.
President Trump, however, seems to lack such awareness. At the G-20 summit, Trump left a working session on climate change and energy issues for a long meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. If the G-20 becomes a forum for bargaining through bilateral talks, then multilateral collaboration will become even more difficult.
It was the U.S. that proposed the first ever G-20 summit in 2008. At the time there was a need for emerging countries to cooperate to overcome the global financial crisis following the collapse of U.S. investment firm Lehman Brothers.
In the age of globalized economies, wide cooperation is essential. The U.S. is being inconsistent by making light of the very framework it long led. It leaves doubts about how the U.S. would respond if another financial crisis or similar catastrophe occurred.
It has been decided that Japan will host the G-20 summit for the first time the year after next. Japan has a big assignment on its hands in finding a way to bring the U.S. back into the international cooperation system.