The day will also see a highly anticipated meeting between US president Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whose nations have been embroiled in an escalating trade war with new US tariffs on Chinese goods set to take effect a month from now.
The divisions among the world’s leading economies were evident from the moment Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri opened the summit on Friday with a call for international co-operation to solve the planet’s problems.
Mr Trump sought to use the gathering to make his own trade deals.
— G20 Argentina ?? (@g20org) December 1, 2018
Meanwhile, two men under heavy criticism from the West lately – Russian president Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – appeared to seek refuge in each other, bonding with a tough-guy hand grab as the leaders sat down for talks.
Security concerns also weighed on the two-day summit in Buenos Aires.
Argentina’s security minister said eight petrol bombs were discovered in an area of the capital several miles from the summit venue where a protest drew thousands of demonstrators, who held up banners with slogans like “Go away G20” and “Go away Trump”.
Diplomats from the G20 countries are haggling hard over a final joint statement, with disagreement over what language to use on the Paris climate accord and the World Trade Organisation.
Two European officials involved in the discussions said the US is hampering progress on both matters.
An unorthodox solution has emerged: because of resistance from the Trump administration, an official in the French president’s office said the statement may use language which sets the US apart.
A draft said 19 of the participants agreed upon the importance of upholding the Paris climate accord, but the US does not.
The officials said the US was also blocking any mention of migration in the final statement.
Asked about the European concerns, a US official said progress was being made on the joint statement and the White House was “optimistic” about the document as a whole.
Laura Jaitman, the Argentine treasury official shepherding the G20’s financing talks, said leaders have made progress on finance and trade and was hopeful a joint statement would be possible.
Ms Jaitman said: “There’s a very positive message of how trade has been an engine of growth for the next decades and how it will continue in the future providing benefits for all citizens.”
Argentine foreign minister Jorge Faurie said trade talks were moving forward and nations are continuing to work on climate change wording.
“All issues being discussed at the summit have the same relevance,” he told reporters. “We are debating (trade and climate change) more closely because we want to reach the consensus of all the countries involved.”
Mr Faurie said the final communique does not require the signature of presidents.
Argentine president Mauricio Macri kicked off the summit by acknowledging divisions within the G20 while urging world leaders to have a “sense of urgency” and take actions “based on shared interests”.
European Council president Donald Tusk urged G20 leaders to discuss “trade wars, the tragic situation in Syria and Yemen, and Russian aggression in Ukraine”.
He said the European Union is expected to extend sanctions on Moscow over its “totally unacceptable” seizure of Ukrainian ships and their crews near the Crimean Peninsula.
Russia and Ukraine have traded blame over the weekend ship incident – which Mr Trump cited as a reason for cancelling a much-anticipated meeting with Mr Putin at the G20. Russia’s foreign minister regretted the move, but said “love can’t be forced”.
Also looming large amid dozens of bilateral meetings in Buenos Aires was the gruesome killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate, and the participation at the summit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is alleged to have ordered the murder.
As soon as he arrived, Prince Mohammed was confronted by French President Emmanuel Macron, who pressed him on the Khashoggi investigation and the Saudi-backed war in Yemen.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 1, 2018
Prince Mohamed told Mr Macron not to worry, but the French president countered: “I am worried.”
Saudi Arabia has denied that the prince played a role, but US intelligence agencies concluded he ordered the killing.
Meanwhile, leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico, met on Friday morning to sign a trade deal replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement that was struck following months of tough negotiations which analysts say left a bitter taste among the partners.
Mr Trump called the pact a “model agreement that changes the trade landscape forever”.