MH17 crash clouds over G20 trade summit

Glenda KWEK
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Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb, pictured in Sydney, on July 19, 2014

Trade ministers from the world's leading economies met in Sydney Saturday for the latest round of G20 talks, with the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 threatening to overshadow the summit.

G20 chair Australia has sought to keep the meeting focused on economic growth, but Thursday's disaster in rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine put the spotlight on Russia and its possible links to the separatists.

Australia's Trade Minister Andrew Robb said he met his Russian counterpart Denis Manturov late Friday to press him on whether his country "would or could stop the separatists with their current activities".

"Australia is looking for an unequivocal Russian assurance that they will fully cooperate with an independent and thorough UN investigation and urgently," Robb told broadcaster Sky News Saturday.

"The Russian trade minister did convey their deep condolences and indicate the government would cooperate with ... (a) UN investigation.

"They did not give me an assurance that Russia would or could stop the separatists with their current activities."

Robb said Canberra may consider trade sanctions against Russia as a result of the crash, which killed 298 people, including 28 Australians, subject to how it "responds, cooperates and is proactive in seeking answers".

Australia, along with several other countries, already has imposed sanctions and travel bans on some Russians and Ukrainians.

- Questions over Putin's G20 visit -

Senior ministers have refused on comment on whether Russian leader Vladimir Putin would be invited to the G20 leaders' summit in Brisbane, Queensland's capital, in November.

But Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said Putin might not be welcomed in his state if the Russian government did not cooperate with an independent investigation into the plane crash.

"If we start seeing them failing to cooperate -- we've heard that they're not providing access at this time -- if that continues, I think I can speak for all Queenslanders and say at that point he's probably not welcome," Newman said.

The talk of trade sanctions came as Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said his nation would continue to keep growth as the main focus of the G20 agenda.

"I think there's a steely determination right across the board to find out who is responsible for what's happened, but also not to allow it to distract everyone from all the tasks at hand of building a stronger global economy -- and importantly -- creating jobs for people," he told Sky News.

He added to delegates at an investment forum early Saturday that the G20 meetings "are helping to shape the destiny of the world's economies -- there's no doubt about that".

"We have shifted from a regulatory framework focusing on trying to fix the problems of the past, getting bogged down in more financial services regulation, getting bogged down in procedure ... to focus on growth and jobs."

G20 finance ministers agreed to a 2.0 percent additional growth target over five years at their February meeting in Sydney.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at a B20 business leaders' summit this week that he was asking G20 nations to push harder on their growth plans so they could meet the February pledge.

Business leaders at the meeting made a series of recommendations on structural reforms and free trade that could boost global growth by US$3.4 trillion and create millions of jobs.

They included a call for the free flow of goods, services, labour and capital, an effective and transparent regulatory framework, as well as structural reforms that would boost trade and lift infrastructure investment.