Is Donald Trump weakening the G20's defence of free trade

In a meeting with his German counterpart, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sought allay fears among European allies, promising the Trump administration is not looking to start "trade wars".

Attention at the two-day meeting in the German spa town of Baden-Baden has centered on a joint statement that is being prepared for Saturday. Before the full meeting, which is set to begin Friday, Mnuchin and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble held bilateral talks and addressed the media afterward.

The G20 nations have been in agreement that they oppose any forms of protectionism and encourage free trade as a way to foster the world economy.

Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, downplayed differences over the exact language.

Negotiators from countries including France, the U.K., Italy, Brazil and Singapore - as well as the European Commission - were against a proposal that dropped a G20 commitment to "multilateral" and "rule-based" trade in the policy statement, a person familiar with the matter said, asking not to be named because the proceedings are private.

The gathering will help set the tone for global commerce and finance and will give Mnuchin a chance to clarify what the USA position is.

Among the treasurers, many worry about a rise of protectionism, as the new U.S. administration of President Donald Trump might practice harsh policies waging a trade war and pressure other countries on their monetary policies.

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Germany's Finance Minister is backing Britain.

Speaking to Reuters ahead of the meeting, Schäuble said the protectionist stance of the new USA administration could complicate the talks and force policymakers to leave out the disputed trade issue.

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"Our objective is getting more balanced trade agreements", he said, confirming that having border taxes is an option.

The U.S. and Germany have come to blows over both trade policy and the euro's exchange rate since U.S. President Donald Trump's administration took office in January.

Mnuchin is scheduled to meet one-to-one with China's Finance Minister Xiao Jie and central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan. Despite Mr Trump's robust rhetoric against free trade and trading partners, the new USA treasury secretary insisted he was more interested in solutions that avoided confrontation. That could include job training and education, since the International Monetary Fund says trade and globalization have benefited higher-skilled workers.

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