G20 ministers give Mnuchin space to define Trump trade agenda

Mon Mar 20, 2017 9:18am EDT
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By David Lawder

BADEN BADEN, Germany (Reuters) - Wary of their first official encounter with U.S. President Donald Trump's blustery trade agenda, the world's top finance officials were relieved to find new Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin polite and business-like over the weekend.

But they yielded ground to the newcomer's push for the Group of 20 major economies to abandon a decade-old pledge to resist protectionism and to delete communique language on financing the fight against climate change.

According to G20 officials who interacted with Mnuchin at the meeting in the spa and casino town of Baden-Baden, Germany, many opted not to challenge Mnuchin on protectionism language.

Instead they chose to give some space to him and Trump's new administration to refine their trade views in the hopes for moderation by the time Germany hosts a G20 leader's summit in July.

Five weeks into his new job, the former Goldman Sachs and commercial banker is currently the only Senate-confirmed Trump appointee working at Treasury. And the Trump administration has not yet decided on the specific policies it will use to make good on campaign pledges to shrink U.S. trade deficits and grow American manufacturing jobs.

Options under consideration range from more aggressive anti-dumping enforcement efforts to renegotiating trade deals and enacting a proposed border tax levied on imports. During his campaign, Trump threatened unilateral tariffs on Mexican and Chinese goods and said he would quit the North American Free Trade agreement unless it is renegotiated to his liking.

"We have a new administration in Washington which still has to define precisely its narrative, especially in the context of what was said in the campaign," said Pierre Moscovici, European Commission Economic Affairs Minister.

"I think Mnuchin is an articulate, constructive and pragmatic man," Moscovici said. "More work needs to be done to find common ground. It was not ready here. It is not a total surprise."   Continued...

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin after meeting with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in Berlin, Germany, March 16, 2017.     REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch