The Korea Times -By Karen Yeung
Finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s 20 top economies have pledged to take action against “intensifying” global trade and geopolitical tensions, according to a joint communique released on Sunday.
“The [global economic] recovery is supported by the continuation of accommodative financial conditions, stimulus measures taking effect in some countries, and one-off factors dissipating,” the Group of 20 statement said. “However, growth remains low and risks remain tilted to the downside. Most importantly, trade and geopolitical tensions have intensified.
“We will continue to address these risks, and stand ready to take further action.”
The financial policymakers were meeting in Fukuoka, Japan over the weekend, with the escalating trade war between the US and China dominating discussions.
US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to meet at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan on June 28-29, although that meeting is not yet confirmed. Analysts believe the chances of a breakthrough to reach a trade agreement if that meeting takes place are slim.
The US is making preparations to extend punitive tariffs of up to 25 per cent on the US$300 billion worth of Chinese goods that have so far escaped such duties, and has effectively banned US companies from selling components and software to Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies, sharply escalating the trade war. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in an interview with CNBC on Sunday that Trump was “perfectly happy” to impose the sanctions if the meeting with Xi did not go well.
China has meanwhile vowed to take “appropriate countermeasures” if the US applies further tariffs and has created its own “unreliable” entities list to punish American companies that take actions that harm Chinese firms.
In a statement posted on the People’s Bank of China’s website following his meeting with Mnuchin on Sunday, central bank governor Yi Gang stressed that all parties in the G20 should jointly demonstrate their willingness to cooperate in resolving trade frictions and send a positive signal to the international community.
Yi said China’s economy was growing steadily and reiterated its long-term goal to deepen reforms in its exchange rate and keep the yuan stable at a “reasonable equilibrium level”.
Mnuchin had a day earlier accused China of allowing the value of its currency to slide in a bid to offset the impact of Washington’s trade tariffs on the cost of its goods to American consumers.
Many ministers expressed serious concerns about the current tensions surrounding trade, stressing the importance of mitigating risks, and the need to improve collectively the trade and investment environment, G20 chair Taro Aso, finance minister of host country Japan, said in a statement.
“In my mind, we have to assure we do not damage the fragile recovery by harmful policies,” Wopke Hoekstra, finance minister of the Netherlands, said in an email interview. “This worries me because as an open economy and trading nation, in the Netherlands, we earn a third of our income abroad. It’s very important to diminish trade barriers and unfair trade tariffs.
“We need to resolve the current trade tensions urgently within our multilateral framework, and step up our efforts to modernise the multilateral trade system, the [World Trade Organisation],” he added.
Bank Indonesia deputy governor Dody Budi Waluyo agreed that the trade war between the world’s two biggest economies was having a significant impact on the performance of exports from smaller emerging nations like Indonesia.
“One of the major factors [on the Indonesian economy] is coming from the trade policies of the big countries, the tensions coming from the two countries. You can see the impact on global demand ― lower demand, lower export prices and lower commodity prices ― because of the impact of trade tensions on us,” Waluyo said in an interview.
The communique reaffirmed the leaders’ conclusion at the Buenos Aires G20 summit in November to support international trade and investment to improve growth and productivity, but they did not mention resolving global trade tensions then.
Waluyo said while the overall impact from trade tensions on emerging markets was negative, they also created opportunities for some emerging economies to fill US demand for goods and commodity exports that previously came from China but were now subject to high tariffs from the US.
“I think Indonesia has also seen some progressive performance in footwear exports to the US, growing from 2 per cent in 2017 to 6 per cent last year,” he said.
Waluyo added that Indonesia would keep the tap open on the infrastructure spending it had started in the last couple of years to increase the competitiveness of the country.
Chinese Finance Minister Liu Kun said on the ministry’s website after the meeting that the nation was willing to work with all parties to support the construction of high-quality, sustainable, risk-resistant, reasonably priced and inclusive infrastructure projects to enable countries to better integrate into global supply chains and advance their development.
The communique warned that while infrastructure was a driver of economic growth and prosperity, the quality of the infrastructure was an essential part of the G20’s efforts.
Without any reference to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the group said it was important to preserve the sustainability of public finances while raising economic efficiency and strengthening infrastructure governance in general. The trade and infrastructure scheme has come under fire for creating unsustainably high levels of debt in some developing countries for projects of marginal economic benefit.
Global current account imbalances remain large and persistent even though they have narrowed in the decade since the global financial crisis, the communique said. Some imbalances that may be excessive and pose risks included excess corporate savings, miscalibrated fiscal policies and barriers to trade in goods and services, it said.
Moreover, it was important for official and private borrowers as well as creditors to improve debt transparency and secure debt sustainability.
“However the data may be inadequate and ambiguous so [the International Monetary Fund] can help improve the situation and shape up the analysis,” said Masatsugu Asakawa, Japan’s vice-minister of finance for international affairs.