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G-20 urges dialogue to resolve trade tensions that threaten growth

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As the G-20 finance ministers and central bankers closed a two-day meeting in Buenos Aires they warned that "heightened trade and geopolitical tensions" threaten the economic expansion.

[BUENOS AIRES] The Group of 20 leading economies made a plea on Sunday for more dialogue to defuse rising trade tensions that are becoming a risk to global growth.

As the G-20 finance ministers and central bankers closed a two-day meeting in Buenos Aires they warned that "heightened trade and geopolitical tensions" threaten the economic expansion.

The final communique stressed "the need to step up dialogue and actions to mitigate risks and enhance confidence" amidst fears of an escalating global trade war.

While the statement did not mention the United States, which is at the center of trade disputes with G20 members China, the European Union and others, it demonstrated more concern than in March, when the group avoided the issue altogether.

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However, Argentina's Economy Minister Nicolas Dujovne hinted that the group could not afford a rupture over trade disputes that he said should be resolved directly between governments or through the World Trade Organization.

"It's not about denying differences," Mr Dujovne told reporters at the conclusion of the meeting. But "we have to try to emphasise consensus because we recognise the importance of keeping this group alive and in harmony."

During the 2008 global financial crisis the G-20 was critical in preventing an even worse outcome and saved millions of jobs, he said, noting that "it's in the bad times when you see how essential it is."

'ALLIES NOT FOES' 

EU finance chief Pierre Moscovici hit out at US President Donald Trump's protectionist policies, but said cool heads are needed to resolve the dispute.

The US and EU have been at loggerheads since Mr Trump angered European allies by imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum, and launched trade restrictions targeting China. He also has threatened to target European auto imports with tariffs.

While the EU is "willing to build bridges," Mr Moscovici told reporters "we believe that targeting us (the EU) is certainly inappropriate... and that we must act with the US as allies - not foes but allies."

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde spoke out against the tit-for-tat tariffs and urged that "trade conflicts be resolved via international cooperation without resort to exceptional measures."

On Saturday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke at the summit about wanting to "balance" the country's trade relationships with China and the EU, calling on both to respect "free, fair and reciprocal trade."

Mr Trump's protectionist policies came under fire from all sides at the meeting, which includes finance ministers and central bankers from the world's 20 largest economies.

On Saturday, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire called on Mr Trump to "return to reason."

As well as imposing tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum, Mr Trump hit China with a 25 per cent punitive levy on US$34 billion of goods, an additional US$16 billion on the way.

In addition, he has threatened to target autos and auto parts and to impose duties on the entire $500 billion of goods the US imports from China.

"The impact of protectionist measures already implemented has been, luckily, so far limited, but the risk of escalation is there," said Mr Moscovici.

The IMF predicts that in a worst-case scenario, US$430 billion of global GDP - or a half percentage point - could be lost in 2020 if all tariff threats and retaliations are carried out.

"Further trade escalation conflicts would negatively affect welfare in all countries involved -- in the US also," Mr Moscovici said.

Protectionism, he said, benefits no one, creating "no winners, only casualties."

Ms Lagarde had warned last week that the US economy was "especially vulnerable" to trade conflicts "because so much of its global trade will be subject to retaliatory measures."

But on Saturday, Mr Mnuchin was inflexible in his approach to the EU, and said the US was "ready to sign a free trade agreement with no tariffs, no non-tariff barriers and no subsidies. It has to be all three."

That brought a stern rebuke from Mr Le Maire saying Europe would "refuse to negotiate with a gun to the head."

AFP