US President Donald Trump has been nothing if not open about his pledges to take a different tack on the world stage, putting “America First” and downplaying long-standing multi-lateralism.
But how that approach will be received at a venue full of world leaders remains a largely open question.
Thus, Trump and his new approach will face their next test when he joins fellow leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg this week.
Trump, who will travel first to Warsaw before arriving in Germany, aims on his second trip abroad “to promote American prosperity, to protect American interests, and to provide American leadership”, National Security Advisor HR McMaster said.
The host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has meanwhile sent mixed signals leading up the summit, stating both that the G20 member countries will not seek to isolate Trump due to his decision to pull out of the Paris climate accords, but also stressing the importance of climate and of free trade in the face of rising protectionism.
“The United States of America are nonetheless an important part of the G20 and will be welcomed by [Germany] despite all differences in opinion,” Merkel said.
Given disagreements there is a high likelihood of “some sort of dust-up” on trade or climate change, says Matthew Goodman, of the Washington based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Constanze Stelzenmueller of the Brookings Institution expects “a combination of hugging and hedging” when the leaders meet, but notes it is “in no one’s interest for this to turn into an all out confrontation over climate change or trade”.
One of Trump’s first acts as president was to withdraw from a sweeping Pacific trade pact.
His administration will soon begin renegotiating a two-decade-old trade deal with neighbouring Canada and Mexico, both of which are G20 members.
Trump has expressed his desire for one-on-one trade deals about sweeping multilateral agreements and has also proven willing to ditch international consensus on issues such as the Paris climate deal.
He reportedly was put off by efforts at the Group of Seven (G7) summit earlier this year to pressure him to remain in that agreement earlier.
In Hamburg, Trump’s “goal will be to make clear, even to our allies, that America cannot tolerate unfair trade and economic practices that disadvantage our workers and our industries,” McMaster said.
Already in March at a G20 finance ministers meeting, the other members of the forum were forced to abandon their tradition of championing free trade and rejecting protectionism amid a disagreement with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
In the final communique, the ministers agreed only to “work to strengthen the contribution of trade to our economies” — breaking the long-standing practice of affirming free trade and open markets.
The move showed “the Trump administration has demonstrated that it will not be deterred from ‘breaking the crockery’ in the international economic arena, as well as dramatically revamping traditional US policy toward trade liberalisation”, noted Claude Barfield of the American Enterprise Institute think tank.
Trump is seeking to jump-start the world economy amid anaemic growth since the financial crisis, but is concerned about global imbalances in areas like steel production, said Trump’s chief economic advisor Gary Cohn.
The US seeks to remain engaged in global trade, he said, but insists it must be “free and fair.”
“We ask the G20 economies to join us in this effort and to take concrete actions to solve these problems. But let us be clear: We will act to ensure a level playing field for all,” Cohn said.
Trump will also face questions following disagreements at the G7 and Nato meetings in May, about his commitment to European allies broadly, and Nato in particular, questions aides hope to put to rest with a major address in Poland.
“The big question is whether he will repair some of the damage from the stops in Europe in May, or will they be compounded?” notes Jeff Rathke of CSIS.
The address will lay out a future vision for the US relationship with Europe and what it means for US security and prosperity, McMaster said, without addressing whether Trump would explicitly commit himself to mutual defence as he declined to do in Brussels.
Meanwhile, many of the leaders, including hosts Germany, face potential backlash from their citizens amid the high unpopularity of Trump in their nations.
A poll released last week shows 74% of residents in 37 countries have no confidence in Trump to do the right thing on the world stage.
© Gulf Times Newspaper 2019