June 28, 2019 / 6:26 AM / 24 days ago

G20 heads struggle to narrow differences beyond their concern on global growth

OSAKA (Reuters) - Many leaders of the world’s top 20 economies on Friday voiced concern over trade tensions and the risk they pose to global growth, but were at loggerheads on key issues such as World Trade Organization (WTO) reform, Japanese and Russian delegates said.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks while other leaders listen during a working lunch at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Osaka, Japan, on Friday, June 28, 2019. Kiyoshi Ota/Pool via REUTERS

The bitter U.S.-China trade war and signs of slowdown in the global economy have overshadowed a two-day Group of 20 summit that kicked off in Osaka, western Japan, on Friday with a session on the world economy and trade.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan’s deputy chief cabinet secretary, who was present at the meeting, said the G20 heads discussed ways to address common challenges such as promoting free trade and jump-starting stalled talks on reforming the WTO.

“There are downside risks to the global economy as trade tensions escalate. Against this background, the G20 leaders agreed on the need for the group to drive global growth,” Nishimura told reporters after the session on Friday.

But that was as far as they could agree, as U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America first” policies and aversion to multilateralism test the solidarity of the G20.

Russia’s economy minister Maxim Oreshkin told reporters on Friday there was no common agreement among the G20 members on how to reform the WTO.

The G20 leaders were also struggling to find common ground on issues such as information security, climate change and migration, said Svetlana Lukash, Russia’s sherpa to the group.

“Currently work on the final (G20) documents is ongoing and this is not going easy,” Lukash told reporters.

But she added a final G20 communique will likely be signed, as well as other documents related to the group’s agenda that may be in a “more political format.”

Japan, as chair of this year’s G20 meetings, has sought to downplay the rift emerging among the group’s members on various topics, notably trade - with little success.

French President Emmanuel Macron had also said his country will not sign off on a G20 communique that does not mention the Paris agreement on climate change.

Japanese media has reported that Tokyo, as a compromise on phrasing the thorny issue of trade, is working with its G20 counterparts on a communique that would call for the “promotion of free trade” to achieve strong global growth.

Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Neil Fullick

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