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Vol. 74/No. 45      November 29, 2010

Meeting of G-20 bares trade tensions
(front page)
Trade conflicts and Washington’s failure to win agreement for much of its agenda marked the November 11-12 Group of 20 meeting in Seoul, South Korea.

The G-20, as it is known, includes the imperialist governments of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom, as well as China, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Turkey. The European Union is the 20th member. These countries account for more than 80 percent of worldwide production.

The Barack Obama administration wanted the meeting to set numerical limits on “trade imbalances,” where countries with large trade surpluses like Germany and China would export less, enabling Washington with its huge trade deficit to step in to export more to these markets.

German chancellor Angela Merkel harshly criticized the U.S. plan. “Our export success proves how competitive German products are,” she told the Die Welt newspaper. “Trade balances are also indicators of performance.”

With veiled threats of protectionism, President Obama responded, “Countries with large surpluses must shift away from depending on exports. No nation must assume the road to prosperity depends on exports to the U.S.” The administration has said doubling U.S. exports over the next five years is at the center of its economic agenda.

Washington also failed to win G-20 support for its longstanding campaign to force China to boost the value of its currency, the renminbi, in relation to the dollar, which would reduce Chinese exports to the United States. Instead, the U.S. government’s dollar policy, recently announced by the Federal Reserve, came under sharp attack. At issue is the decision to print $600 billion to purchase U.S. Treasury bonds. Government officials from China, Germany, and other countries have charged that this move undermines the dollar and destabilizes other currencies.

Zhang Tao, director of the international department of the People’s Bank of China, told the Financial Times November 11 that Washington “should not force others to take medicine for its own disease.”

The G-20 also refused to offer duty-free and quota-free access to their markets for the least developed semicolonial countries. Washington, for example, insists on keeping in place trade barriers limiting imports of garments from Bangladesh.

“Embarrassment in Seoul,” was the title of the November 13 Wall Street Journal editorial summing up the meeting’s results. “Has there ever been a major economic summit where a U.S President and his Treasury Secretary were as thoroughly rebuffed as they were at this week’s G-20 meeting in Seoul? We can’t think of one,” the Journal editors wrote.

“Mr. Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner came to Seoul blaming the rest of the world for U.S. economic weakness. America’s problem, in their view, is the export and exchange rate policies of the Germans, Chinese, or Brazilians. And the U.S. solution is to have the Fed print enough money to devalue the dollar so America can grow by stealing demand from the rest of the world,” the Journal said.

Another political blow to the Obama administration was its failure to secure a trade pact with the South Korean government. At the last G-20 meeting in Toronto five months ago, Obama had set the Seoul summit as the deadline for signing such an agreement.

The George W. Bush administration signed a trade pact with Seoul in 2007, but it was never implemented. Obama campaigned against the pact in 2008. Since then his administration has been seeking to renegotiate its terms to increase sales of U.S. cars and beef in South Korea. U.S. officials, for example, have been demanding that South Korea “accept slightly weaker U.S. emissions standards as long as imports remain below a certain level,” reported the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, the European Union has completed its “free trade” pact with Seoul on terms similar to what the Bush Administration negotiated in 2007.
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