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Mar 16, 10:51 AM EDT

German finance chief rejects protectionism before US meeting

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- Germany's finance minister is denouncing trade protectionism ahead of a meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and a summit where global finance officials are expected to tussle over how strongly to support free trade.

Wolfgang Schaeuble said in a speech Thursday that "protectionism and nationalism are never the right answers." He noted that countries are "more connected and dependent on each other than at any other point in history."

"We cannot turn back the clock and reverse globalization... but we can shape it," he told a forum hosted by the Institute of International Finance.

Schaeuble's meeting with Mnuchin comes after U.S. President Donald Trump's administration criticized Germany's trade surplus. Members of the Group of 20, a gathering of the world's most powerful economies, will debate whether to confirm their rejection of trade barriers when they meet Friday and Saturday in southern Germany.

Last year's gathering of the G-20 finance ministers issued a statement opposing "all forms of protectionism." This time, early drafts of the ministers' statement have omitted such unequivocal language, which in the final version could be softened to refer to trade that is "open" and "fair," without the absolute opposition to import restrictions to benefit domestic workers.

Trump has repeatedly emphasized that the U.S. needs a tougher approach to trade that would put American workers and companies first. He has already pulled the U.S. out of a proposed trade deal with Pacific Rim countries and has started the process to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.

His trade adviser Peter Navarro has accused Germany of benefiting from a weak euro that boosts its exports. Germany rejects the charge, saying it sells more abroad because its companies make competitive products and that it can't do much to influence the euro's exchange rate since eurozone monetary policy is set by the European Central Bank.

Ahead of his meeting with Schaeuble, Mnuchin visited his British counterpart, Philip Hammond, in London. The two underscored the importance of their countries' close relations and their "desire to work closely, including through institutions like the G-20," the Treasury said in a statement.

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