These events will give us a clearer idea of American policyby Christopher Smart / January 19, 2017 / Leave a comment
©Van Tine Dennis/ABACA/ABACA USA/PA Images Mark your calendars for key events this year that will reveal the Trump administration’s vision to remake the world’s economic order. There will be early hints from a handful of incoming advisors who are in Davos this week and the picture will take shape slowly in speeches (and Tweets) as they settle into office. But the economic summits already on the docket will require President Donald Trump to sit down with his counterparts and explain exactly what he means by “America First.” Economic summitry is rarely the stuff of high drama, but this year there may be fireworks. During the global financial crisis, of course, the G20 meetings convened by Presidents Bush and Obama were crucial in helping stabilize the world’s economy. But in those conditions, it was relatively easy for everyone to agree. Since then, in a more stable world economy, there have been real disagreements around the right policies. And since summit conclusions are adopted unanimously, they are often underwhelming commitments to promote growth and tackle a long list of global ills. While easy to deride as empty “talk shops,” these meetings have been important vehicles for American leadership. Since the crisis, a commitment to forswear protectionist measures has been a regular fixture. If nothing else, anchored around American priorities, the talk has been important in requiring leaders to explain their plans to support global growth and in forcing their governments to debate disagreements. This year, however, the agendas may have slipped their anchor. Following an election campaign in the United States that promised a reappraisal of traditional trade strategies, punishment for currency manipulators and a commitment to bring jobs home, the summits promise more confrontation than compromise. The administration’s logic appears founded less on shared gains and more on winners and losers. The communiqués may actually make for interesting reading… G7, 26th-27th May, Sicily The entity formerly known as the G8 convenes without Russia since the Ukrainian crisis. While the new Italian government will have had little time to shape the agenda, there will be plenty of drama in President Trump’s first summit appearance. (France will have a new president, too.) European leaders will want to know the Trump administration’s reaction to Brexit. Will the US launch free trade negotiations with Britain? Will these take precedence over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), where negotiations are far advanced with the European Union? There will be a keen interest in Trump’s thoughts on Russia, too, as EU sanctions will be up for renewal. G20, 7th-8th July, Hamburg With Chancellor Angela Merkel as host, this will likely be Trump’s first meetings with the leaders of China, India and Brazil. If election promises are fulfilled, China will have been declared a currency manipulator and its response will be pushing Asia toward a major trade skirmish if not a full-blown war. Mexico’s President Peña Nieto will meet Trump again (after hosting him in October during the campaign) and we should have some sense already of what will come after Trump “tears up” the North American Free Trade Agreement and demands reimbursement for the border wall. Russia’s Vladimir Putin will be there, but the two will likely have already met to attempt a re-launch a better relationship. A Nato summit in Belgium should land around this time as well, revealing how Trump’s security plans fit with his economic strategy. Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), autumn 2017, Vietnam While not yet scheduled, this gathering may be Trump’s first Asian trip and his first opportunity to explain to his counterparts from the world’s fastest growing economies why they should buy into his vision of a more sharp-elbowed trade strategy that will produce a web bilateral deals to replace the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Around this time, China hopes to wrap up negotiations with its Asian partners on its less ambitious Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Japan, Korea, Australia and just about everyone else will be listening for any hint of a US strategy to counterbalance China’s economic weight amid the ashes of TPP. US-ASEAN Summit & East Asia Summit, autumn 2017, Philippines These meetings often convene near APEC and afford another chance to focus on regional economic and security issues. This year’s colourful host of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will be President Rodrigo Duterte, who has expressed personal admiration for Trump but strategic alignment with China, which he sees as rising as American influence recedes. Will Trump try to convince him otherwise? For the first time in memory, we enter the year unsure of America’s priorities and intentions to the world economy. By the end of 2017, we may not like what we have learned but at least we will have a clearer view.