The name "Buenos Aires" translates to "good air" or "fair winds" but come Friday when the global microscope focuses on the Argentinian capital for the G20 meeting, the air and the wind might be biting and unfriendly.
The Group of 20 event is already shaping up to be more of a gladiator battle than a cordial forum that brings together leaders of the world's major economies. The 19 countries plus the European Union gather ostensibly to address the world's infrastructure, financial, and food security challenges. But forget the anti-capitalists and anarchists--this time around it's shaping up to be a multi-layered showdown involving the United States, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Argentina and possibly even Canada and Mexico. Global investors will be watching it all.
Reading the tea leaves: U.S. v China
President Donald Trump has a dinner meeting set for Saturday night with Chinese leader Xi Jinping The main course will undoubtedly be the trade battle raging between the world's #1 and #2 largest economies. Trump has already slapped tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods coming into the U.S/ and has threatened to turn up the heat by tacking tariffs on another $257 billion worth of imports if China doesn't drop its trade practices which Trump argues are unfair. The administration is demanding China stop requiring U.S companies transfer their technology to Chinese partners as a requirement for doing business in China. Just to open up shop on the mainland, American companies are often pressured into joint ventures with 'partners' who often allegedly swipe the American firm's intellectual property, copy it, and start selling their own versions.
Earlier this week, ahead of the G20, Trump said he was preparing to hike current 10% tariffs on Chinese goods up to 25% if he and Xi break bread but leave without breaking through the wall of issues between them. For its part, China is accusing the U.S. of engaging in "trade bullyism" while holding up a list of 142 concessions it offered to the U.S.last week as proof it's compromising. Trump administration officials replied the concessions had "nothing new" and didn't include any real changes President Trump has demanded.
Expect any engagement between the two --whether during the 'family photo' op of the 20 leaders on Day 1 or side glances during group meetings---to be scrutinized and questioned by both world leaders and the international press.
Diplomatic Russian roulette: U.S. vs. Russia
The second most anticipated meeting at the G20 is off.
On Thursday President Trump cancelled his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin tweeting that, “Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting.” This follows a serious incident Sunday between the Russian coast guard and a number of Ukrainian ships at the Kerch Strait in the Black Sea. The Russians opened fire, rammed and then seized the ships and the Ukrainian sailors. International treaties allow both Russia and Ukraine to navigate the waters, but Russia claims Ukraine ignored the warnings its ships were getting too close to Russian territory---specifically the Crimean peninsula Russian-backed militants had seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Will Pen Be Put to Paper?
Another gigantic question mark hovers over the planned signing at the G20 meeting of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement [USMCA] a.k.a. NAFTA 2.0. The intended date to officially seal the deal is Friday but the text has still not been finalized. Word is, unless the U.S. drops its tariffs on imported Canadian steel and aluminum, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will not attend any signing ceremony. The Canadians say that doesn't mean the deal won't be approved, but Canada's ambassador to the U.S. quipped to Politico that perhaps a "low-ranking Canadian official with a bag over his head" would be the one to sign the agreement. The clock is ticking on the 3rd member of the triumvirate. In order for Mexico's outgoing president Enrique Pena Nieto to legitimately sign the deal, he must do so by November 30th, before his successor is sworn in December 1st.
Saudi Arabia's Big Gamble
It doesn't appear there will be a warm welcome for at least one world leader. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, also known as MBS, could be in the crosshairs of Argentine prosecutors who are considering charging the Prince with torture and war crimes if he lands on Argentinian soil.
The group "Human Rights Watch" wants the prosecutors to investigate the Crown Prince after the CIA concluded he ordered the torture and killing of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Kashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey last month. While it's unlikely the Prince would actually be arrested once he lands in Buenos Aires, the mere fact there's even a slight chance will add intrigue and tension to any event involving the Crown Prince. So when it's time for the "family photo" Friday, look for a few grimaces among the clan. As with any family, squabbles and spats are expected but this G20 is shaping up to be quite the wrestling match, worthy of the history books.
Liz Claman joined FOX Business Network (FBN) as an anchor in October 2007. She anchors Countdown to the Closing Bell with Liz Claman (weekdays 3-4PM/ET).