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Sep 4, 2016 10:16 PM

Economic summit opens amid sluggish growth, trade

The Associated Press

HANGZHOU, China (AP) — The American and Chinese presidents are calling on major economies to defend free trade at a summit held as sluggish growth and disputes over steel and other imports fuel demands in the United States and Europe to protect local industry.

Opening the Group of 20 meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping appealed Sunday for governments to resist pressure to raise trade barriers. At the same time, a European leader highlighted the conflicts looming over the summit by calling for action on China's bloated steel industry.

China made trade a theme of the gathering in this lakeside city southwest of Shanghai even as it faces complaints a flood of low-cost steel exports are threatening U.S. and European jobs, fueling demands for trade curbs.

"We should build an open world economy," Xi said before an audience that included U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May and leaders from Japan, South Korea, India and other governments.

Governments should "avoid taking new protectionist measures" and "take effective action to promote trade growth," Xi said.

Xi called for innovation to spur growth and reforms to global financial and economic management. He appealed for cooperation in taxes and fighting corruption, and for measures to "improve the ability of the world economy to resist risks."

China hopes its status as this year's G-20 leader will increase its influence in global economic management. Chinese officials want the G-20, created to respond to the 2008 financial crisis, to take on a longer-term regulatory role.

Other leaders have called for "inclusive growth" - a reference to efforts to spread the benefits of closer global integration to millions of people who have been left behind by wrenching change.

Obama stressed that theme at a separate news conference with May.

"We must all work together to spur economic growth, to boost free trade and build a fairer economy that truly works for all," said Obama.

Also Sunday, the president of the European Union's governing body, the European Commission, called for action on China's bloated steel industry.

The G-20 meeting "must urgently find a solution" to excess steel production, said Jean-Claude Juncker. He called on Beijing to accept a monitoring mechanism for overproduction that Beijing's trading partners blame for low prices and job losses.

China, the world's biggest steel producer, has committed to reducing its production capacity by 100 to 150 million tons by 2020, a pledge Xi repeated Saturday.

"Free trade must be fair trade," Juncker said at a news conference with Donald Tusk, president of the European Council.

Another prominent issue at the summit is G-20 member Britain's June vote to leave the 28-nation EU, seen by some analysts as the first in a wave of moves by other nations to retreat from free trade.

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