National / Politics

G20 leaders make progress on trade and investment in Osaka; members minus the U.S. reaffirm Paris climate goals

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The Group of 20 leaders’ summit in Osaka concluded Saturday with promises to work toward trade and investment that is free, fair, nondiscriminatory, transparent, predictable, stable and for open markets, even as they avoided a specific pledge to fight protectionism.

In addition, with the United States withdrawing from the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, the best the G20 leaders could agree to on that front was that the other 19 members would pursue the Paris agreement’s goal of keeping the world’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, and that the United States would merely remain committed to the development and deployment of advanced technologies to continue to reduce emissions and provide for a cleaner environment.

“It is difficult to find a solution, in one stroke, regarding a variety of challenges. However, in this year’s summit, in many areas, we were able to send out the strong will of the members of the G20 to the whole world, creating a sustainable, future-oriented growth path,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a news conference following the declaration’s adoption.

Abe, who chaired the G20 session, noted that current trade tensions, especially between the United States and China, were creating worries around the world.

The declaration echoed a phrase adopted in the communique of the G20 finance chiefs’ meeting earlier this month, noting that “trade and geopolitical tensions have intensified,” and described the situation as a downside risk to the global economy.

At the same time, rapid changes in technology and the spread of globalization are fueling anger and discontent in many parts of the world among people who feel left behind and marginalized by the global trade regime and prefer more protectionist economic policies.

“There are concerns the post-World War II free trade system may be faltering. Against such concerns, what we need now is to solidly build upon principles which would lead us into the world economy of the future, one that is free, fair, and nondiscriminatory and offers open markets and a level playing field. These are the fundamental principles of free trade and at this G20, we were clearly able to reaffirm such fundamental principles,” Abe said.

On top of deep differences among the G20 members over multilateral trade, the U.S. opposition to strong G20 support for the Paris agreement was the subject of much discord at the Osaka summit, with the French threatening to walk out unless support for the Paris agreement was reaffirmed.

In the end, the language adopted was similar to the declaration on climate change adopted at the December 2018 G20 summit in Buenos Aires. The other 19 members will adhere to the Paris goals but the United States will go its own way.

“The United States remains committed to the development and deployment of advanced technologies to continue to reduce emissions and provide for a cleaner environment,” the declaration read.

Environmental groups reacted negatively to the result.

“Prime Minister Abe raised expectations that he would use this G20 moment to take bold action for the planet. Instead, Japan hid behind the Trump administration and didn’t try to build a clear majority of support for climate action and lower ambitions. This revealed Japan’s serious lack of a sense of urgency and political will,” said Kimiko Hirata, international director of the environmental nongovernmental organization Kiko Network.

The G20 also agreed to continue pursing reform of the World Trade Organization in order to improve its functions, especially in the area of e-commerce. The leaders agreed to Abe’s proposal for an “Osaka Track” dialogue about sharing good practices on effective policy and regulatory approaches and frameworks to promote innovation in the digital economy.

“The Osaka Track aims at the new rules making while protecting privacy and security. We will ensure a cross-border, free data flow. In order to do that, we will proceed with the rule-making in a speedy manner,” Abe said.

Reaching a G20 agreement on a specific framework for regulating the digital economy and the free flow of data could prove difficult as some members, particularly India, have their own rules in place for data storage and sharing, while other nations, such as China, are wary of being too free with sharing their data.

There were also agreements on other issues, including support for quality infrastructure projects that have a high degree of financial transparency and are environmentally sustainable, and making further efforts to address the problems posed by marine plastic waste.

Finally, the G20 leaders issued a statement on preventing exploitation of the internet for terrorism and violent extremism, a measure that had been pushed by Australia in particular after the Christchurch, New Zealand, terrorist attacks.

“The internet must not be a safe haven for terrorists to recruit, incite or prepare terrorist acts. To this end, we urge online platforms to adhere to the core principle, as affirmed (at the 2017 G20 Summit in) Hamburg, that the rule of law applies online as it does offline. This must be achieved in a way that is consistent with national and international law, including human rights and fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression and access to information — we hold these in high regard. We commit to collaborate with states, international organisations, industry, and civil society in this endeavor,” the statement said.

The G20 includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and the European Union, which is represented by the presidents of the EU and the European Commission. The heads of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Secretary General of the United Nations also attended the leaders summit.

Gist of joint

The following is the gist of a joint statement by the Group of 20 leaders, issued after their two-day summit through Saturday in the ﷯city of Osaka.
G20 leaders:

  • fail to pledge to fight protectionism.
  • say global growth appears to be “stabilizing,” but acknowledge downside risks remain.
  • stand ready to “take further action” to address economic risks.
  • warn trade and geopolitical tensions have “intensified.”
  • commit to using “all policy tools” to achieve strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth.
  • vow to realize “free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable” trade.