The Trump administration on Saturday rebuffed language in a free trade statement at a G20 meeting that would have opposed economic protectionism, The Washington Post reported.
The rejection of language stressing the importance of free and open trade and condemning protectionism signals a growing fissure between the U.S. and some of its key economic allies.
German officials reportedly urged Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to agree to include the free trade language in the G20’s joint statement, but the former hedge fund manager refused to do so, marking a break from previous meetings in which such language was adopted.
Mnuchin suggested adding general language committing to “strengthen the contribution of trade,” the Post reported. A version of that sentence was included in the statement, despite criticisms from others at the meeting that it was pointless.
“I understand what the president’s desire is and his policies and I negotiated them from here, and we couldn’t be happier with the outcome,” Mnuchin told reporters at a news conference, according to the newspaper.
The U.S. has long opposed protectionist policies. But as a presidential candidate, Trump campaigned against the country’s free trade position, frequently calling for an “America first” trade policy. He has also blasted the country’s trade agreements, and has repeatedly claimed the U.S. is treated unfairly by other countries.
Still, Mnuchin’s rejection of the language undermines longstanding principles governing how the U.S. deals with its allies and trade partners and comes amid new tensions with the United Kingdom and Germany.
During a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, Trump pressed his German counterpart to commit to meeting NATO’s defense spending target, saying the U.S. was being treated unfairly by the alliance.
He reiterated that call in a Saturday morning tweet, demanding that NATO and the U.S. “must be paid for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany.”
The U.S. is one of five countries in the 28-member NATO alliance that meet or exceed the group’s target that nations spend 2 percent of their country’s budget on the alliance. Germany falls 15th on the list, according to NATO defense expenditure data.
The White House also reportedly ignited fury among British government officials when White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday repeated an unfounded claim by a Fox News analyst that a U.K. spy agency had surveilled Trump’s election campaign under the direction of former President Barack Obama .
Trump dismissed the outcry from the allegation on Friday, saying that it was made by a “very talented legal mind” and that he was not responsible for propagating the accusation.
“That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox,” he said at his news conference with Merkel. “And so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”