EU Finance Chiefs Distance Themselves From Trump, G-20 on Trade

  • European ministers say they’re worried about protectionism
  • Meeting in Brussels comes three days after G-20 gathering

European Union finance chiefs expressed fear that some governments are trending toward protectionism as they distanced themselves from President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy stance and the Group of 20 nation’s watered-down declaration on free trade.

“The G-20 was unfortunately a disappointing meeting because the promise we have given each other in the past is now being taken away by the new U.S. administration,” Danish Finance Minister Kristian Jensen told reporters on Tuesday on the way into talks in Brussels. “I’m quite concerned that we need to fight harder for Europe to keep up free trade.”

After two days of meetings in the German town of Baden-Baden, finance chiefs and central bankers from the G-20 set aside a pledge to avoid protectionism. They preferred a much pared-down statement compared with the group’s communique last year to work “to strengthen the contribution of trade to our economies.”

EU finance ministers, of whom only those of France, Germany, Italy and the U.K. are members at the G-20 level, will pick over Saturday’s communique at the Brussels meeting. The absence of words directly addressing protectionism follows claims Trump that the U.S. has had a bad deal from the current global trade setup.

‘Very Unfairly’

When Trump met German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House last week, he repeated his complaints that his country has been treated “very, very unfairly” in trade arrangements.

“It has now been confirmed that open world trade maybe is not a priority for everyone,” Luxembourg Finance Minister Pierre Gramegna told reporters. “We are all worried in Europe that open trade and globalization with its good sides are being put into question.”

Belgium’s Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt said he was “very worried” about the move toward protectionism.

“Practically all the European economies are very open economies, very much oriented toward an open international trade system and if we would walk away from that system or start to walk away from it, that would have major consequences,” he said.

Defending Trade

The paradigm shift in U.S. policy has left the EU scrambling to reinforce European trade standards.

“We are working to defend the multilateral rule-based system that has safeguarded our prosperity over so many decades,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a speech in Toronto on Monday. The Trump administration’s embrace of bilateral trade deals and its proposed border tax “are worrying signals,” she said.

“We do know the consequences of turning away from open trade,” Malmstrom said.

— With assistance by Marine Strauss, Nikos Chrysoloras, Edward Ludlow, and Rae Hurring

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