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G-20 Summit: Germany hosts ‘difficult’ talks on trade, climate

Merkel has rejected calls from some to push for a strong “G-19” statement — without the US — on climate change.

world Updated: Jul 07, 2017 23:45 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press
Associated Press, Hamburg
G20 Summit,G20 Meet 2017,Argentina
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders during the family photo at G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 7, 2017. (PTI)

Talks on global trade at the Group of 20 summit proved very difficult and differences on climate change also were clear, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday, as police and protesters clashed throughout the day in the summit’s host city of Hamburg.

Merkel told leaders of the G-20 economic powers that they must be prepared to make compromises as she worked toward a summit outcome that everyone present could accept.

That is a challenging task at a time when President Donald Trump’s “America First” rhetoric and decision last month to withdraw from the Paris accord against climate change have caused widespread concern.

US President Donald Trump talks to Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau prior to a concert on the first day of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, on July 7, 2017. (AP)

Negotiators “still have a great deal of work ahead of them” to formulate a passage on trade in the summit’s closing communique, Merkel said after the first day of meetings.

She added that most participants called for “free but also fair trade” and underlined the significance of the World Trade Organization, though she didn’t specify which ones did not support the trade language. “The discussions are very difficult, I don’t want to talk around that,” Merkel said.

The German leader said most summit participants backed the Paris climate accord. Speaking separately, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of “the common engagement which we must take, we must defend, at a moment when it is called in question by certain people.”

“It will be very interesting to see how we formulate the communique tomorrow and make clear that, of course, there are different opinions in this area because the United States of America regrettably ... wants to withdraw from the Paris accord,” Merkel said.

Germany has been keen to preserve the G-20’s tradition of making decisions by consensus. Merkel has rejected calls from some to push for a strong “G-19” statement — without the US — on climate change.

Opening discussions earlier in the day, Merkel told fellow leaders that there are “millions of people following us with their concerns, their fears and their needs, who hope that we can make a contribution to solving the problems.”

“We all know the big global challenges, and we know that time is pressing,” she said. “So solutions can only be found if we are prepared to compromise ... without, and I say this clearly, bending ourselves too much out of shape. We can of course also name differences.”

The leaders did make a joint statement on fighting terrorism, an issue on which there are few differences. They called for ensuring that there are “no ‘safe spaces’ for terrorist financing anywhere in the world” and pledged to work with internet providers and app administrators to combat the web’s use for terror propaganda and financing.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacts with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, on July 7, 2016. (PTI)

Merkel noted that the countries at the summit represent two-thirds of the world’s population, four-fifths of the globe’s gross domestic product and three-quarters of world trade.

The G-20 comprises Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, France, Britain, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Also attending are the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Guinea, Senegal, Singapore and Vietnam.

Merkel said the threat posed by North Korea’s missile tests was brought up at Friday’s meetings by the leaders of South Korea and other countries in the region, and all hoped that “the UN Security Council will find an appropriate answer” to Pyongyang’s violation of UN resolutions.

Trump-Putin meeting

The summit was also a forum for a flurry of bilateral meetings, including Trump’s first encounter with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Donald Trump and Putin voiced confidence that their historic first meeting would pave the way for a positive trajectory for their two countries. If thornier issues like election meddling came up, they discussed them only in private.

US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, on July 7, 2017. (AFP)

In characteristically confident fashion, Trump said he and the Russian leader were holding “very, very good talks” as journalists were briefly allowed in to witness part of their meeting in Germany. Seated with an American flag behind him, Trump appeared informal and relaxed and said it was “an honor” to be with Putin.

“We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everybody concerned,” Trump said.

The White House said in advance that 35 minutes had been allotted for the meeting. But it extended well beyond that, and was still going well past the 90-minute mark, according Svetlana Lukash, a Russian official.

Trump offered no details about what issues he and the Russian leader had discussed, describing them only as “various things.” Putin was similarly vague, telling reporters through a translator that they were discussing international problems and bilateral issues.

Still, Putin described the fact that they were meeting as a positive sign in itself, and he said he hoped the meeting would “yield positive results.”

“Phone conversations are never enough definitely,” Putin said. “If you want to have a positive outcome in bilaterals and be able to resolve most international policy issues, that will really need personal meetings.”

Then the leaders shook hands firmly but briefly before reporters were escorted out of the room. Trump did not respond to shouted questions about whether they would discuss Russia’s meddling in the US election — a topic lawmakers in Washington have been demanding that Trump raise directly.

G-20 clashes

Anti-globalisation activists clashed violently with police across the German port city of Hamburg all day Friday, setting cars ablaze and trying to enter the convention center.

Demonstrators run away after setting a garbage bin afire during a protest on the first day of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, on July 7, 2017. (AP)

Responding to a second day of protests, police ordered in more than 900 additional officers from across the country to get the clashes under control. Over 160 police officers were injured, dozens of activists had to be taken to the hospital and more than 70 protesters were detained.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the violent protests as “unacceptable.” “I have every understanding for peaceful demonstrations,” Merkel said. “But violent demonstrations endanger human lives, they endanger people themselves, they put police officers and security forces in danger, put residents in danger, and so that is unacceptable.”

Merkel thanked security forces for their work as the Group of 20 met behind a heavy police presence in a no-go zone that was off-limits to most.

Thousands of officers in full riot gear patrolled as many as 30 different protest marches. Most of the demonstrations were peaceful and creative, but some rioters threw gasoline bombs, iron rods and cobble stones through the city.

More than 20,000 officers were on hand to guard the city’s streets, skies and waterways.

First Published: Jul 07, 2017 23:38 IST