Trump ‘used’ G20 to side with Putin and split climate and trade packs

Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, in conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the margins of the Hamburg G20 Summit. On the left, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (Work of the Federal Government of Germany, G20 2017)

While protesters were dynamically trying to reach the part of Hamburg where the G20 leaders of the largest economies of the world were gathered, the most powerful politicians of the globe were reduced to the status of viewers, in the Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin spectacle of rapprochement. Trump also ‘used’ the G20 to tell the other 19 that the US is to stay out from the Paris Climate Agreement and move on with its bilateral trade option, instead of the established order of multilateral agreements.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel just managed to avoid the issue of two communiqués or the issuance of no communiqué at all. This was at the expense of an acknowledgment of a 19 to 1 definite split on climate and the American covert threats about the use of penalizing measures on steel exports from China and Europe to the US. (The G20 is comprised of 19 countries plus the European Union. The countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America).

Trump-Putin ‘chemistry’

In the sidelines of the Summit, the American President went as far as to openly accept the Russian’s reassurances that the Kremlin and the country’s authorities didn’t meddle in the 2016 US Presidential campaign and election. The US Commander in Chief at the highest level and on the most exposed occasion was seen as if ordering an end to the American hullabaloo about the Russian interference in the US politics. The two leaders were perceived by the media as developing good ‘chemistry’ right from their first tête-à-tête meeting, and Trump didn’t spare flattering remarks and offering liberally repeated handshakes with the Kremlin tsar.

According to Reuters, late last Friday afternoon, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign minister stated that, the “U.S. President Trump said that he heard firm assertions from Russian President Putin, that it is not true and that Russian authorities have not meddled in the elections. He (Trump) said that he accepts these assertions. That’s it”. The statement was made officially at the G20 workings. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the relevant investigations by a number of powerful American bodies will cease.

Does it matter in Washington?

To be reminded, in Washington the US Senate, the House of Representatives, the FBI and the independent investigator of the Department of Justice, Robert Mueller, have been working for weeks on this issue. The handpicked by Trump U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has already recused himself from the ongoing FBI probe about the Russian interference in the US Presidential elections, for being himself subject of the investigation. Trump is actually cornered at home in this affair, because Congress has the power to impeach him over a possible collusion of his close aides or him personally with Russian dignitaries. In this way, he is under the ‘protection’ of his fellow republicans, who control the majority in both legislative houses.

Returning to the north German city-port of Hamburg the encounters and the meetings between Trump and Putin drew all the attention of everybody, media and G20 participants included. The Friday afternoon get-together of the two lasted more than two hours. The two leaders were accompanied in their talks by their foreign secretaries Rex Tillerson and Sergei Lavrov and two translators. This means the discussion was not restricted to formalities and personal interaction.

The protracting meeting drew the attention of a lot of important people and the Press. Bewilderment, boiled up to the point as to force the American First Lady Melania Trump to enter the room and urge them to conclude. Obviously, the extending meeting had started to arise various comments by the rest of the powerful attendees. It was the first face to face encounter of the two leaders. Undoubtedly, Trump finally had it his own way concerning the US-Russia relations, despite the strong opposition at home from the Democrats and many of his own Republican lawmakers.

Shadowing the G20 climate

In many respects, the agenda of the G20 was shadowed by the bilateral or multilateral meetings of the leaders. Angela Merkel the host of the summit, apart from an unforgiving encounter with the Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, had difficult times inside and outside the compounds of the event. During the night of Friday the leaders could see smoke coming up from the center of Hamburg, just some hundreds of meters away. More than 100,000 protesters forced the police to seek reinforcements from the neighboring regions. Schools and businesses were shut down in large parts of the city and armed police patrolled key areas of the city center.

Within the summit rooms, Germany, France and Italy working together had problems to promoting the return of the G20 to the Paris Agreement principles on climate. In the sidelines of the leaders’ activities, officials were feverish drafting the final communiqué. It became clear that the US was not alone in rejecting the Paris rules on climate protection. Saudi Arabia and some more countries of US influence were indirectly opposing the adoption of it by the G20. Finally however, the US was left alone in outright denying the climate Agreement. According to the conclusions of the Summit the leaders took “note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris Agreement….the other G20 members, state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible”.

Trump didn’t move back an inch from his G7 position two months ago in Sicily. On the contrary he insisted that the final communiqué contains the following phrase, “The United States of America …will endeavor to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently”.

‘America first’ also on trade

In the other hot issue, trade, again the US seconded by Britain, South Korea, Australia and Indonesia effectively opposed the France-Germany-China camp. The latter group supports free trade under the current multilateral arrangement, while US & Co. back something rather foggy but surely detrimental for the big exporters. The threat of punitive action by the US against steel exporters was present in the corridoors of the Summit.

On the insistence of US, the communiqué “recognizes the role of legitimate trade defense instruments”. This is a direct reference to what the Americans had been defending all along the pre-Summit weeks, regarding their version of ‘free and fair trade’. To further clarify that, the communiqué, on American firmness, also stipulates that the G20 should, “rapidly develop concrete policy solutions that reduce steel excess (production) capacity”. The conclusions also state that that world leaders “look forward to a substantive report with concrete policy solutions by November 2017, as a basis for tangible and swift policy action”.

The American way

It can be easily understood what ‘policy actions’ the Americans have in mind. The fact that the communiqué sets a very short time limit for the correction of excess capacity, gives the US the right to introduce “legitimate trade defense instruments” within this year. Understandably, the threat against the steel exports from China and Germany to the US is more than evident.

In conclusion, the G20 Summit gave Trump the opportunity to solidify his position in the world map, but also in the internal American scenery. In two days he sidestepped the impediments to his plan for closer relations with Russia and less amicable relations with China and Europe. He also ‘used’ the key trade chapter to clarify his option about ‘freedom and fairness’. In reality, Trump’s America managed to ‘use’ the Hamburg G20 to spread the message of a new world order, ‘a la Americana’.

Last but not least he let his daughter Ivanka Trump to take his seat in the G20 table, when the leaders discussed the “Women’s Empowerment” chapter of the communiqué. It was as if a universal royal family had undertaken the task of correcting the world’s problems.

 

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