Finance leaders from the Group of 20 major economies on Friday explored ways to protect the global economy from rising trade tensions but were unable to agree on concrete solutions, leaving the issue to be resolved at summit talks next month.
Central bank governors and finance ministers wrapped up a two-day conference in Bali, Indonesia, without issuing a joint statement, after stock markets around the world reeled from sell-offs triggered by concerns that interest rate hikes in the United States could drain capital from emerging markets.
(Handout photo of G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors in Bali on Oct. 11)
The treasury minister of Argentina, this year's G-20 chair, told a post-meeting press conference the member countries agreed that trade is "an important engine of growth," and that they recognized the need "to resolve tensions which can negatively affect market sentiment and increase financial volatility."
But Nicolas Dujovne also conceded that the G-20 had its limits, suggesting a heated trade dispute between the United States and China could only be resolved bilaterally.
"The G-20 provides a mechanism to seek consensus and strive collectively toward our shared goals, but even having these governance groups working, we know that there are trade tensions," he said.
"Part of those tensions, we have to resolve by members. The G-20 can play a role in providing the ground for discussion, but of course the difference that still persists should be resolved by the members that are directly involved in the tensions," Dujovne added.
Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso echoed the sentiment, saying "it's a matter that certainly needs to be discussed between the United States and China."
The G-20 groups Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are reportedly planning to meet on the sidelines of the summit in Buenos Aires, where the focus will be on whether they will agree to de-escalate the heightened trade tensions between the world's two largest economies.
Trump's mission to resolve the hefty U.S. trade deficit has seen Washington raise tariffs on nearly half of the products America imports from China and threaten to do the same for the remainder. Beijing has answered with tariffs of its own, raising concerns that the tit-for-tat blows could hurt the global supply chain.
In a sign that such concerns are beginning to materialize, the International Monetary Fund earlier this week cut its forecasts for global growth in 2018 and 2019.
"If these tensions escalate, the global economy would take a significant hit," warned IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Thursday. "So our strong recommendation is to de-escalate those tensions, and work toward a global trade system that is stronger, that is fair, and that is fit for growth."
The spread of protectionist policies has countries that rely on exports, like Japan, worried. Trump has threatened to impose steep tariffs on imported cars, though he has promised to shelf those plans for Japan while the two countries negotiate a bilateral trade deal.
Another major concern discussed at the meeting in Bali's Nusa Dua resort is the vulnerability of emerging markets to an outflow of capital triggered by the raising of interest rates by the U.S Federal Reserve.
The currencies of countries like Argentina, Turkey and South Africa have sharply depreciated amid the central bank's normalization of monetary policy following years of keeping borrowing costs near zero.
Jitters over the rate hikes triggered a global sell-off in stocks this week that chipped more than 1,300 points off the Dow Jones Industrial Average over just two days.
But Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda shrugged off the market losses, saying "we haven't seen a significant change in the strong fundamentals of Japan, the United States, nor Europe, and corporate profits, which form the basis for stock prices, are firm both overseas and at home."