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  • Writer's pictureMaia Harrison

This Year's G20 Summit Explained

Updated: Dec 5, 2018

Man-shakes, climate change, and trade – all exciting outcomes of this year’s G20 summit.


What does G20 mean?

The Group of 20 (G20) is an international forum and event, bringing together the world’s 20 principal industrialised and emerging economies. This group forms together a critical mass, accounting for 85% of world GDP and 66% of the population. As a result, this summit holds an important place on the world stage for diplomacy.

This article will cover the main developments and talking points from this year’s summit.

World leaders gather in Argentina for the G20 summit

Climate Change

The final document signed by 19 of the nations reaffirming their commitment to the Paris Climate Accord (an agreement dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation to a changing climate, and financing alternative solutions). However, and somewhat unsurprisingly, the only abstainer was the USA, who has withdrawn from this pact under Trump’s administration.

Nevertheless, many environmental groups praised this statement. Greenpeace stated that “the necessity of the US being a part of the effort to fight climate change cannot be denied, but this is a demonstration that the US is still an odd one out”, and the World Wildlife Fund claimed that “it is also a reflection of the Argentinian government rightly making climate change an important topic on the agenda.”

World Trade Organisation (WTO)

All of the leaders present at the conference called for reform for the WTO; this issue will be further discussed during the next summit in June. However, and perhaps more interestingly, the gathering’s final statement on the issue did not mention an increase in protectionism. This was due to the USA’s objection to the wording – Trump has often criticised the WTO and has adopted aggressive trade policies targeting China and the EU (for more information about this trade war, check out our article on all things trade war.)

The US and China’s Trade War

In an optimistic turn, Trump and Chinese President, Xi Jinping have agreed at a dinner at the summit to have a 90 day truce in their trade battle. This ceasefire will prove to be useful, allowing the two countries to work out their differences over Beijing’s increasing attempts to supplant the USA’s technological dominance.

Trump has agreed to delay his plans to increase tariffs on January 1st on 200 billion dollars of Chinese goods. Xi has also agreed to buy a “not yet agreed upon, but very substantial amount of agricultural, energy, industrial” produce from the United States in order to reduce the USA’s significant trade deficit with China.


Many Western leaders confronted Putin over Russia’s recent seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels and crews – but this diplomatic pressure did not bring either side close to a resolution to this conflict. Both sides have accused the other of being responsible for the standoff – with Putin even pulling out a piece of paper and drawing a map of the discussed area to make his point.

The Saudi Crown Prince

Many leaders called out Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman over the gruesome killing of newspaper columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey (check out this opinion piece on the issue for some in-depth analysis!). Indeed, both French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May remarked that they pressed Bin Salman over their concerns.

However, Prince Bin Salman was not ostracised altogether during the conference. In fact, he and Russian President Vladimir Putin engaged in a hearty handshake (which has since gone viral).

Overall, although there were no major shake-ups, this G20 summit proved to be lacking. Even the host country, Argentina, had lowered its expectations ahead of the summit – stating that it may not be possible to reach a consensus to write a final statement. In the end, a communique was introduced, but many analysts have claimed that leaders signed a watered down statement that skirted trade and other contentious issues. Thomas Bernes, a distinguished fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation, claimed that “The G20 veered all over the road” in their failing to sort out trade issues. He also noted that “leaders buried their differences in obscure language and dropped language to fight protectionism, which has been included in every G20 communique since the leaders’ first summit. This is clearly a retrograde step forced by the USA’s intransigence.”

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