US says global trade must be fair as well as free

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen represented the U.S.in two days of meetings with their counterparts from the world's 20 largest economies in Baden-Baden, Germany.

Both China and Germany have found themselves in the crosshairs of United States criticism over their massive trade surpluses.

The leaders noted the importance of trade to the global economy, saying countries were "working to strengthen the contribution of trade" to their economies, but didn't use the tougher language from before, vowing to "resist all forms of protectionism".

Reports suggested China and Australia, among others, pushed hard for the commitment to be retained.

On Thursday, following talks with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, Mnuchin said Washington had no desire to fight "trade wars" with other economic powers.

Trump, whose tough protectionist talk helped win him the presidency, has withdrawn the United States from a trans-Pacific free trade pact and attacked export giants China and Germany.

But the writing has been on the wall for a while.

Breaking with the bloc's decade-old tradition of rejecting protectionism and endorsing open trade marks a win for US President Donald Trump and his anti-globalisation agenda.

Trump has repeatedly emphasized that the USA needs a tougher approach to trade that would put American workers and companies first.

After a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, Trump said that he did not believe in isolationism but that trade policy should be fairer.

Mr Trump has been insistent that the U.S. has previously been treated "unfairly" in its dealings around the world.

Some advocates, like the International Monetary Fund, readily concede that the benefits of free trade have been uneven across societies, as less skilled workers lose out and the better trained prosper. But he asserted that the USA has been treated "very, very unfairly by many countries over the years" and pointed to Germany as having done "very well in its trade deals with the United States". This included executive orders withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and ordering a review of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The threat of new protectionist policies and border taxes from the White House have created headaches for countries that rely on America for trade.

Canada took a middle approach in the talks, urging a statement supporting free trade but not taking a position on specific wording.

The annual meeting of G20 finance ministers ended Saturday in Germany without a concrete agreement on free trade after the US blocked any language that encouraged past commitments on the open flow of goods and services.

Information for this article was contributed by David McHugh of The Associated Press and Birgit Jennen, Svenja O'Donnell and Jeff Black of Bloomberg News.

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