June 19, 2019 / 3:14 AM / in a month

Japan says G20 summit to debate trade including WTO reform

TOKYO (Reuters) - Substantial discussions on trade, including reform of the World Trade Organization, will likely take place at a summit of Group of 20 major economies next week in Osaka, a senior Japanese finance ministry official said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Japanese Vice Minster of Finance Masatsugu Asakawa, Finance Minister Taro Aso, and Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda hold a news conference after the G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors' meeting at the IMF and World Bank's 2019 Annual Spring Meetings, in Washington, April 12, 2019. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

Japan, which chairs this year’s G20 gatherings, will take a neutral stance in the U.S.-China trade row and urge countries to resolve tensions with a multilateral framework, said Masatsugu Asakawa, vice finance minister for international affairs.

“With regard to differences (on trade) between the United States and China, Japan of course won’t take sides. We will also not take any steps that go against WTO rules,” said Asakawa, who oversaw the G20 finance leaders’ gathering earlier this month.

“Japan will continue to take a multilateral approach in promoting free trade,” he told a news conference.

China and the United States, the world’s two largest economies, are in the middle of a costly trade dispute that has pressured financial markets and damaged the world economy.

Markets are focused on whether U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping can narrow their differences when they sit down at the G20 summit.

The bitter trade war has forced the International Monetary Fund to cut its global growth forecast and overshadowed the G20 meetings that conclude with the Osaka summit on June 28-29.

At the finance leaders’ gathering, the G20 issued a communique warning that trade and geopolitical tensions have “intensified” and that policymakers stood ready to take further action against such risks.

“The macro-economic impact (of the trade tensions) is an issue of concern,” Asakawa said, conceding it took considerable time for G20 finance ministers and central bank heads to agree on their communique’s language on trade.

More “concrete” discussions on trade policy will take place at the G20 Osaka summit, he added.

The row over trade appeared to spread to currency policy when Trump criticized European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s dovish comments as aimed at weakening the euro to give the region’s exports an unfair trade advantage.

Asakawa rebuffed the view the Bank of Japan’s massive stimulus program could also provoke the ire of Trump.

He also said the G20 shared an understanding that members would accept any exchange-rate moves driven by ultra-easy monetary policies as long as the measures are not directly aimed at manipulating currencies.

“The BOJ’s ultra-easy policy is aimed at beating deflation, not at manipulating exchange rates. That’s understood widely among the G20 economies,” he said.

Fears of the widening fallout from the trade war have heightened market expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve will start cutting interest rates this year. Draghi said on Tuesday the ECB will ease again if inflation fails to accelerate.

The dovish tone of other central banks have piled pressure on the BOJ, though many analysts expect it to keep policy steady at least at this week’s rate review.

Additional reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Chris Gallagher & Shri Navaratnam

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