Finance heads from the world’s leading economies will confront fresh fears about protectionism when they meet in China this weekend, with Brexit fallout and dwindling policy options to boost global growth expected to dominate talks.
The Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers meeting will put the spotlight on Britain’s new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, who makes his international debut at the gathering and will need to answer questions about how London will manage its exit from Europe.
Also overhanging the G20 meeting in the southwestern city of Chengdu will be Donald Trump’s US Presidential campaign in which protectionist themes are expected to be central, after his official nomination as the 2016 Republican candidate this week.
“(On Brexit), the focus will be on what message G20 can deliver to ease concerns,” said an Asian financial official involved in G20-related issues.
“We still need to remain vigilant.”
The International Monetary Fund this week cut its forecast for global growth, specifically on Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
A South Korean finance ministry official said “expanded downside risks to global economic growth” post-Brexit would feature in the Chengdu talks.
“With everything aside, talk about strengthening cooperation regarding monetary, fiscal and macro policy to recover global growth will be essential,” said the official.
Noting the growing public backlash against trade and globalisation, a senior US Treasury official said the G20 needed to focus on ensuring the benefits of global trade and cooperation were shared broadly among their citizens.
“We also need to do a better of job of explaining why this cooperation is important to the lives or our citizens in terms of jobs, economic growth and stability,” the Treasury official said.
LESS FOCUS ON CHINA
With central bank meetings in both the US and Japan next week, there is likely to be a focus on currencies and current monetary policy settings globally.
However, for host China, the meeting may also bring less heat than February’s G20 gathering in Shanghai, when it had to counter concerns about the possibility it would devalue its currency and spark a global currency war.
Five months later the yuan is lower — it fell to 6.7 per to the dollar this week for the first time since late 2010 — though this decline has not raised concerns about forced depreciation.
“The Chinese renminbi is moving a little bit over time but I don’t think it’s really something that…bugs G20 policymakers at the moment,” said Frederic Neumann, Co-Head Of Asian Economic Research at HSBC in Hong Kong.
“There seems to be…some consensus that the Chinese are not trying to aggressively gain market share through currency depreciation.”
Concerns about the health of the Chinese economy have also eased, even with growth running at quarter-century lows.
“We will also talk about China but most of the G20 are convinced that the country will manage to have a soft landing,” said a European official involved in the G20.
Still, the United States intends to put China’s efforts to reduce excess industrial capacity on the agenda.
The US official said Treasury secretary Jack Lew would “highlight the need for G20 leadership in responding to the pressing problem of global excess industrial capacity.”
In return, China could have its own questions for the US, said Zhang Yongjun, senior economist at the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges, a Beijing think-tank.
“China may also ask the United States to better guide market expectations when it makes monetary policy decisions and its policy moves should not only consider its own economic condition, but also the global economic condition,” he said.
Neighbouring Japan is unlikely to find support for any effort to either coordinate fiscal stimulus or intervene to weaken the yen, having previously been rebuffed for such lobbying.
G20 ministers have pledged to avoid currency manipulation, and promised in February to inform one another of policy decisions that could lead to currency devaluation.
“There might be sort of a reminder to the Japanese officials: ‘Hey, remember not to massage your currency too overtly’,” said HSBC’s Neumann.