When twenty governments met for the G20 summit in late 2008, at the worst of the global credit crash, their agreed joint statement included just one hard commitment: to resist protectionism, to avoid new trade barriers. Not perfectly, but on the whole, that commitment held, and helped the slump level out in late 2009 rather than continuing downwards for three or four years as in the 1930s, when states spiralled into competitive tariff-raising and world trade collapsed.
On 18 March, the statement from a meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors deleted the now-traditional pledge against protectionism. It also deleted commitments to action on climate change. Steve Mnuchin, Donald Trump’s US Treasury Secretary, blocked both pledges. Mnuchin is reckoned less nationalist than others in Trump’s circle. He softened his stance by claiming: “It is not our desire to get into trade wars... The president does believe in free trade but he wants free and fair trade.”
Coming with the Tories’ desire to make Brexit “hard” by quitting the EU Single Market and Customs Union, and the rise of Marine Le Pen in France, the G20 deletion signals dangers of a rise of economic nationalism.