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Trade war, international disputes set to test G20 unity


Osaka (Japan):  The leaders of G20 countries are set to set to meet on Friday and Saturday in the Japanese city of Osaka to face the challenge of sending a common message on environmental protection and free trade, a task made difficult by the growing rifts and friction between members.

The annual summit arrives at a moment of crisis for multilateralism, marked by the trade war between China and the US, escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf and is aimed at reaching a consensus, said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, currently holding the rotating chairmanship of the group. 

Abe said in the Wednesday press conference that the world was going through change due to globalization, with an increasing number of conflicts emerging, but the G20 wanted to send a strong message about the need to be united in tackling the situation, Efe news reported. 

Abe underlined environmental protection and climate change, new regulations for the digital sector and innovation as well as free trade as priority topics for the summit. He added that the group would not emphasize its differences and instead he wants to find a common ground. 

The accumulation of marine plastics seems to be the only topic on which the 20 countries have been able to reach an agreement with a specific text during a summit where bilateral meetings such as that between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are expected to be more fruitful. 

Abe said the two world powers could engage in "constructive dialogue" and highlighted how important it was for the world to maintain peace and stability in the Middle East. 

Although the heightened tensions between Iran and the US have not been included on the official agenda, the topic is expected to be part of the discussions between the leaders of developed and developing countries, who include figures who have influence in the Persian Gulf region, such as Saudi Arabia and Russia. 

In addition to bilateral meetings, world leaders including Abe, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the respective Presidents of the European Council and European Commission, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Junker, are expected to issue calls for defending free trade and multilateralism. 

A similar split is expected to affect references to climate change, a topic which could be mentioned in the final resolution with just a call for each country to fulfil their commitments under the Paris Agreement, a treaty which the US has unilaterally abandoned. 

In environmental matters, Japan said it was sure the summit would at least allow a coordinated strategy against plastic pollution in the oceans, the first-ever such proposal, according to the Japanese President's office, although many G20 countries have already begun initiatives in this regard. 

The proposal is based on the exchange of scientific information and good practices of recycling and waste management and leaves countries decide their own measures in a voluntary way, a step which has been deemed insufficient by environmental organizations. 

Japan, the host of the summit, has wanted to set an example with the recent approval of a national plan against plastic waste, with actions such as promoting recycling and substituting plastic with biodegradable alternatives.

However, the archipelago is far from being perfect in the area. It is the second-biggest generator of plastic waste in the world after the US, according to the UN, and the second-largest in Asia to export the waste to other countries, according to a report by non-profit Greenpeace.

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