The government of Argentina took a chance when they offered to host the 2018 G20 Summit. Not only in terms of diplomatic, logistical, and security risks, but mainly because of the uncertainty of the results of the Summit. There was the possibility, extreme but not improbable, that the Argentine G20 Summit would have failed.
The fact there was a Final Declaration that came out of the Summit was relief for Argentina. It is a medium-sized country that is not in a position to produce major international agreements. But if the Buenos Aires Summit had ended without a pronouncement, it would have been considered as a ‘breakdown’.
For the Argentine government, the most significant opportunities of the Summit were the bilateral meetings with the other heads of state. The balance of what was achieved in each of them will still require some time to fine-tune, but it is no doubt a positive outcome. There is something to be said for this, given that Argentina is only a medium-sized country, and is currently experiencing difficult economic conditions. Additionally, in the global context of the end of the second decade of the 21st century, it is an achievement that there was a document at all.
Five or six years ago, the Final Declaration issued by the G20 in Buenos Aires would have been considered frustrating. The US still did not accept the Paris Agreement. In direct reference to the issue of climate change, “the communiqué of Buenos Aires was quite similar to that of Hamburg”, with the United States declaring that it did not adhere to the treaty signed in Paris. There was no explicit condemnation of protectionism, and the White House welcomed the acceptance of ‘all’ energy variants, including the most negative for the climate, such as coal.
For the first time in the history of the G20, the word ‘protectionism’ was not mentioned in the communiqué, despite its critical implications. However, there is a consensus that trade policies need to be reformed. The rules of trade that have been in place since the end of World War II have to change, but there is no clear answer as to exactly what these changes would look like. Yes, there was full agreement to reform the World Trade Organization (WTO), although the G20 leaders did not specify how.
Undoubtedly the communiqué ended up reflecting the positions of power among the members. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the G20 Summit was the truce reached by Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping in the trade war between the two countries. They agreed not to impose additional tariffs starting on 1 January 2009, a decision that was well-received by the rest of the world. Nonetheless, and even assuming that the Trump-Xi conversation will allow for progress on the commercial level – which would be a key achievement – the underlying tensions will continue.
Because the question of substance is a dispute over global leadership where economic and geopolitical international aspects are at stake. The process has begun, is in full development and the end is not in sight.
As a result, it seems a plausible hypothesis that the subsequent G20 summits will be dominated by the ups and downs of the United States’ relationship with China. The macroeconomic and financial coordination mechanisms that prevailed in the past – even before the G7 – have entered a different phase. The shake moves the entire building of multilateral institutions built under American leadership. It has now entered into a global order where China is looking for its role as an ascending power. Thus, for example, it is no coincidence that the trade war between the two has significantly impacted the WTO by putting its effectiveness and functionality at stake. We should not be surprised that in time we observe similar reverberations in other institutions.