Stressing free trade, Mnuchin shrugs off G20 outcry

The administration of President Donald Trump is calling for the Group of 20 to drop its long-standing commitment to free trade and opposition to protectionist policies.

The world's top economic powers have failed to agree a joint position explicitly opposing trade protectionism amid pressure from the US.

Trump, whose tough "America First" talk helped win him the presidency, has withdrawn the USA from a trans-Pacific free trade pact and attacked export giants China and Germany.

Canada, like China a major trade partner of the United States, took a nuanced approach.

Mr Mnuchin dismissed concerns that Washington would be the instigator of any disruption, saying President Trump was interested in "free and fair" trade, with agreements that are "reciprocal".

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been demanding the language be watered down, with the deadlock after two days of talks now coming down to a few words, G20 sources said.

On Friday, Finance Minister Taro Aso and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed to maintain existing global agreements on currencies, including a pledge to avoid competitive devaluations.

Experts said before the meeting that a failure by the G20 to commit to free trade would signal that Trump is serious about following through with at least some of those threats. "We are for free, regulated worldwide trade, with rules respected by everyone".

Wolfgang Schaeuble, the finance minister of host country Germany, sought to play down any disagreements.

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. "It was totally undisputed that we are against protectionism".

"We think there are parts of the WTO that are not being enforced and will look to aggressively enforce things in the interest of American workers, and to the extent the agreements are old agreements and need to be renegotiated, we'll consider that as well", he added.

It said the 19 leading industrial nations plus the European Union "will resist all forms of protectionism". "We have a means to address that", Mnuchin said, referring to White House advisors' belief that Chinese and German goods are priced too low in the United States because their currencies are too weak against the dollar.

So all eyes were on what Mnuchin might say as he attends his first worldwide conference as USA treasury secretary. The finance ministers' meeting will pave the way for a July 7-8 summit of national leaders in Hamburg, Germany.

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said if no agreement could be found on both issues, that could be reflected in Friday's final statement.