The outcome of the latest meeting of top economic policymakers from the Group of 20 countries has raised serious concerns about the possibly dire consequences of the self-righteous policy stance of the world’s largest economy.

We cannot help but wonder whether the “America First” agenda of the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump is the death knell for global free trade.

The meeting of G-20 finance ministers and central bankers, held in the southern German town of Baden-Baden, attracted international attention as the first multilateral economic policy conference since Trump was inaugurated as the new U.S. leader in January.

The statement issued by the policymakers was radically different from the document released last year.

In particular, the call for resisting “all forms of protectionism,” which was a key element of last year’s statement, has been dropped. That has been replaced by a passage saying only that countries "are working to strengthen the contribution of trade" to their economies.

The Trump administration, which has pledged to cut the U.S. trade deficit and defend jobs at home under its increasingly protectionist trade agenda, strongly insisted on deleting the part expressing opposition to protectionism. Some countries raised an objection to the proposal and called for keeping it in the text, but eventually succumbed to Washington’s demand.

The history of the G-20 forum dates to the late 1990s, when the Asian currency crisis led to the first meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors of the 20 major powers. After the 2008 failure of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers triggered a global recession, the annual G-20 summit was established.

Close cooperation between major industrial nations and emerging countries is vital for preventing a full-fledged economic crisis in the increasingly globalized world of today. One of the core principles for promoting such cooperation is a joint commitment to resisting protectionism.

The United States is not alone in showing signs of trends that are going against the times. In Europe, Britain has decided to leave the European Union amid growing public anxiety about issues concerning immigration, refugees and jobs.

In France and some other European countries, chauvinistic and xenophobic political forces and arguments are gaining ground.

If nothing is done to stop the U.S. administration from turning its back on multilateral frameworks to deal with trade and other global issues, the dangerous trend toward a "me-first policy" could accelerate out of control.

Countries should unite against this trend and make tenacious efforts to convince Washington of the importance of multilateral cooperation.

After the meeting of G-20 finance ministers, Germany, this year’s G-20 host, announced its intention to keep the nations debating the issue until the group’s summit in July.

In May, the Group of 7 major industrial nations will hold this year’s meeting of their leaders. These conferences will test the ability and commitment of the international community to persuade the Trump administration to change its mind.

Japan has the responsibility of playing a vital role in this effort.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now on a European tour, scheduled to meet with the leaders of Germany and France.

Maintaining and promoting the free trade regime is one of the main topics for these meetings.

Abe should join forces with the leaders of other major countries to send a clear and powerful message against protectionism.

It would also help to push forward multilateral trade negotiations, such as the ongoing talks for an economic partnership agreement between Japan and the EU.

All the passages concerning global warming have also been eliminated from the G-20 statement. This is apparently a consequence of the Trump administration’s diplomatic campaign to influence the outcome of the conference in line with its reluctance to support efforts for environmental protection.

There are many other issues that require broad international cooperation, including aid to developing countries and the fight against poverty.

How the issue of free trade is handled in the coming months will go a long way toward determining the fate of multilateral cooperation in tackling these issues.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 20