Japan's finance minister Taro Aso and IMF MD Christine Lagarde gesture as SA's National Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane, Asian Development Bank president Takehiko Nakao and Saudi Arabia's Monetary Authority governor Ahmed Alkholifey pose for the official picture at the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting in Fukuoka, Japan, June 9 2019. Picture: REUTERS/KIM KYUNG-HOON
Japan's finance minister Taro Aso and IMF MD Christine Lagarde gesture as SA's National Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane, Asian Development Bank president Takehiko Nakao and Saudi Arabia's Monetary Authority governor Ahmed Alkholifey pose for the official picture at the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting in Fukuoka, Japan, June 9 2019. Picture: REUTERS/KIM KYUNG-HOON

Fukuoka — The world’s top financial policymakers admitted on Sunday that trade tensions have worsened and pose a risk for the global economy, after a Group of 20 nations (G20) meeting that laid bare differences between the US and other nations.

Following 30 hours of wrangling in what one official described as a “tense” atmosphere, G20 finance ministers and central bank chiefs produced a final statement acknowledging that “growth remains low and risks remain tilted to the downside”.

“Most importantly, trade and geopolitical tensions have intensified,” the G20 said, adding they stand “ready to take further action” if required.

As a compromise pushed by Washington, the statement omitted language from a previous draft that mentioned a “pressing need to resolve trade tensions”.

Almost everyone in the room thinks that trade tensions are a threat to growth…. It’s not always the mood in the American administration
EU economic and monetary affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici

The statement capped two days of talks in the western Japanese port city of Fukuoka that also tackled the thorny issue of taxing internet giants and, for the first time, the economic challenges posed by ageing.

“In our view, this is the best outcome we could deliver. Not the perfect outcome but a good outcome,” said EU economic and monetary affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici, who admitted that reaching agreement was “not an easy task”.

“Almost everyone in the room thinks that trade tensions are a threat to growth…. It’s not always the mood in the American administration,” he said.

“I wouldn’t say it’s them against all the others but it looks like it sometimes, even if everyone also criticises some aggression from China.”

‘Principal threat’

Trade battles were front and centre of policymakers’ minds as the US and China continue to threaten each other with tariffs that economists fear could slam the brakes on global growth.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde warned the tariffs could shave global GDP by 0.5% or about $455bn in 2020 and said trade conflicts constitutes the “principal threat” to the global economic outlook.

The G20 ministers heaved a sigh of relief just hours before the meeting when the US and Mexico clinched a deal over immigration that stopped Washington imposing 5% tariffs on Mexican goods.

But US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said Washington stands ready to impose more tariffs on China if President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping fail to strike a deal at the G20 summit later in June in Osaka.

“If China wants to come back to the table and negotiate on the basis that we were negotiating, we can get a great historic deal. If they don’t, we’ll proceed with our tariffs,” Mnuchin said on Saturday.

He tweeted on Sunday he had had a “constructive” meeting with China’s central bank governor, Yi Gang, during which there was a “candid discussion on trade issues”.

But taking a different line from the other policymakers, Mnuchin said the slowdown in some parts of the world is not due to trade difficulties and even said the friction could benefit some countries if companies relocate from China to avoid tariffs. “There will be winners and losers,” said the treasury secretary.

‘I don’t like them’

The quandary of reforming the global tax system to take into account the rise of internet companies such as Google and Facebook was another issue exercising the minds of policymakers.

In the final statement, the G20 agreed to “redouble our efforts for a consensus-based solution with a final report by 2020”.

However, here again the Fukuoka meeting exposed a difference of opinion over what form this reform should take.

Frustrated by a lack of global action on the issue, some countries such as Britain and France have already introduced a so-called digital tax, but Mnuchin was blunt in his assessment of these policies. He said the US has “significant concerns” and stated “I don’t like them.”

But Moscovici was more positive, saying he is “rather optimistic” the G20 will clinch agreement on a new set of international tax rules by 2020. “It’s doable, it’s more than doable,” he said.

Appropriately for a meeting held in Japan — on track to become the world’s first “super-aged” society in which more than 28% of the population is over 65 — the G20 ministers discussed for the first time the “challenges and opportunities” posed by ageing.

They suggested getting more women and elderly people into the workforce and “promoting elderly-friendly industries”, as well as reforming the fiscal and banking systems to take into account ageing populations.

“You basically have a very large portion of mankind that is ageing and then the workforce is shrinking,” Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, said. Solving the issue will require wholesale changes to the way society is organised, Gurria said.

AFP