World leaders are meeting in Argentina for their annual G20 summit amid new tension with Russia over Ukraine and a US trade row with China. US President Donald Trump has cancelled a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in protest at Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian naval boats. But ahead of the summit’s official start Mr Trump signed a trade deal with the Mexican and Canadian leaders. A massive security operation is under way for the summit in Buenos Aires. A bank holiday has been declared for Friday and the city’s main business district has been shut down. Speaking before the signing of the US Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to replace the Nafta free trade deal Mr Trump described it as “probably the greatest trade deal ever”. “All of our countries will benefit greatly,” he said. Hopes of progress over tariffs in Mr Trump’s expected talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping have been dampened. The two economic giants are locked in a trade war, which may possibly even escalate. Climate change promises to be another major sticking point in the talks. French President Emmanuel Macron was quoted by news agency as saying he would refuse to sign a trade deal with South America’s Mercosur bloc if Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro withdrew from the Paris climate accord.
The summit is also a diplomatic test for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman amid continuing questions about the Saudi state’s possible involvement in the murder last month of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. Mr Trump said he would not meet Mr Putin because the three Ukrainian vessels and 24 sailors seized by Russia in the Black Sea near Crimea had not been returned. The decision also follows the US president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleading guilty to lying to Congress about a Trump property deal in Russia during the 2016 election. Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Moscow regretted the decision. But in his initial reaction to reports of the cancellation he said: “If this is so, the president will have a couple of extra hours in the program for useful meetings on the sidelines of the summit.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel blamed the crisis “entirely” on Russia and said she would raise the issue with Mr Putin. However, Mrs Merkel’s own arrival at the summit has been delayed by a technical fault in her plane. The plane was forced to land in Cologne on Thursday evening. She has resumed her journey but will not get to Buenos Aires until after other leaders have started their discussions. President Trump said recently that current tariff levels on $200bn (£157bn) of Chinese imports would rise as planned.
He also threatened tariffs on $267bn of other Chinese exports to the US. Speaking to reporters at the White House, he said that while China was interested in striking a deal, “I don’t know if I want to do it” and “I like the deal we have now”. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Zhuang said he was hopeful. “We hope the US can show sincerity and meet China halfway, to promote a proposal that both countries can accept,” he said, quoted by Reuters. The US has hit a total of $250bn of Chinese goods with tariffs since July, and China has retaliated by imposing duties on $110bn of US products. “I think the most likely scenario is that [Chinese President] Xi Jinping doesn’t offer big enough concessions to Trump, and so nothing much comes of the G20 meeting,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard from Capital Economics. International indignation over Khashoggi’s murder, which was carried out inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, continued on Thursday as Canada slapped sanctions on 17 Saudi nationals allegedly linked to his murder. British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will meet the crown prince and deliver a “very clear” message. “In relation to Mr Khashoggi, we want to see a full and transparent investigation of what happened and those responsible being held to account,” she said.