(Bloomberg) — It’s never been easy to forge consensus among the 20 most powerful leaders meeting every year to discuss the world’s most pressing issues. But this time around it seems near impossible.
In the midst of bruising trade wars, renewed geopolitical tension over Iran, and massive protests in Europe over climate change, negotiators at this year’s G-20 summit in Osaka are struggling more than usual, according to several officials involved in the process who asked not to be named because the talks aren’t public.
Even before the summit officially kicked off, a German official had already warned that preliminary talks were proving extremely difficult. Now that the leaders’ sherpas are locked up in a negotiating room frantically trying to come up with a final communique by early Saturday, they are finding the draft is becoming thinner and thinner.
The fear is that more of the red pen could leave little left in the communique. At least two delegates were so pessimistic they didn’t rule out not having one at all.
As was true at the latest G-20 leaders’ summit in Buenos Aires, the biggest stumbling blocks again are on trade and climate. As of Friday afternoon in Japan, the section on climate still had three different versions of language in brackets.
While publicly U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to be on a charm offensive, calling German Chancellor Angela Merkel “a great friend” and a “fantastic woman,” behind closed doors Washington held its line.
The U.S. doesn’t want the accord to include any paragraph on climate at all. The U.K. and other European countries want to at least maintain language agreed at previous summits. Turkey, South Africa and Brazil are somewhere in between, demanding that rich countries stick to their commitment to assist developing countries, the people said.
As for steel, China continues to disagree with the request for it to reduce steel production, so Japan is considering a separate paragraph through its right as chair country. The issue is particularly dear to the Europeans.
On trade, the U.S. is once again opposing the use of protectionism in the text but talks were heading toward a repeat of the call in Buenos Aires for WTO reform and for a resolution to a dispute caused by the U.S. over the appointment of appellate judges. The section was likely to involve few bold calls for action, one of the participants said.
Other delegates say discord extends well beyond the familiar sticking points of steel, environment and trade. One person involved in the process said that the ability to compromise had virtually dropped to zero and that nobody really wanted to negotiate.
Indeed, a level of cynicism has crept into the negotiating process that one person said reflected the broader state of multilateralism these days. Another person participating in the drafting said that so many accords had been broken unilaterally that they had begun to lose meaning.
A U.S. official involved in the process simply called the final communique a waste of time.
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