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March 25, 2017

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G-20 ministers fail to get Washington on board

BADEN-BADEN, Germany -- Finance ministers from the world's biggest economies on Saturday failed to get the U.S. to renew an anti-protectionist pledge and a vow to fight climate change, in the face of Donald Trump's "America First" push.

After a two-day meeting, ministers from G-20 developed and emerging nations said they were "working to strengthen the contribution of trade to our economies" but failed to spell out a pledge to reject protectionism in a closing statement.

An entire section on action against climate change was dropped from the final document, sparking dismay among America's partners as well as environmental activists.

"I regret that our discussions today were unable to reach a satisfying conclusion on two absolutely essential priorities that our world and which France would have liked to see the G-20 continue to take firm and concerted action on," said French Finance Minister Michel Sapin.

Host German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble however struck a conciliatory tone, noting that in the U.S. the matters of finance and trade were divided in two portfolios.

"Trade questions are not the responsibility of the finance minister ... that's why it was a bit complicated, that's true," he said, as the American delegation was led by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The conspicuous omissions come as Trump champions a "Buy American" strategy that includes threats to penalise companies that manufacture abroad by heavily taxing their products.

Carried to power on the back of a political storm over deindustrialization in vast areas of the U.S., Trump vowed in his inauguration speech to "follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American."

Since taking office, he has withdrawn the U.S. from a trans-Pacific free trade pact and attacked export giants China and Germany over their massive trade surplus.

His stance has been condemned by Washington's trading partners, and led Beijing to issue a stern warning against sparking a trade war.

Trump himself insisted at a tense Washington press conference Friday, following his first meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that "I'm a free trader but also a fair trader."

He also rejected a description of his policies as "isolationist."

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