BERLIN (Reuters) - Preparing a meeting of the Group of 20 economic powers is like "herding cats", German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday as her officials try to reach consensus among the group ahead of a leaders' summit she will host in July.
The G20 was a crucial forum for tackling the global financial crisis that took hold in 2008, but forging consensus has proven harder this year as the group must deal with a shift toward more protectionism under U.S. President Donald Trump.
"We are 20 different countries, with 20 different political systems, with 20 different development levels. Everything must be unanimously approved," said Merkel, who will host world leaders at the July 7-8 G20 summit in Hamburg.
"This is no simple task," she told a G20-sponsored meeting of business leaders in Berlin. "The sherpa process, as you could imagine, is quite a challenge. It is like herding cats."
The Hamburg G20 summit is taking on increased significance as Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin plan to hold their first face-to-face meeting on the sidelines of the meeting.
Ministerial meetings in the build-up to the summit have proven tricky.
At a meeting in March, G20 finance ministers and central bank governors dropped a pledge to keep global trade free and open, acquiescing to a protectionist United States after a two-day meeting failed to yield a compromise.
Merkel rejected protectionism in her speech on Wednesday, arguing that an increasingly interconnected world meant countries must work more closely together.
"The existence of the G20 means that isolation and protectionism are dead-ends and not ways forward," she said.
"Anyone who tries to withdraw from international competition, can perhaps deliver short-term advantages. But over the medium- and long-term, their own capacity to innovate will be weakened."
Trump campaigned for the U.S. presidency on an "America First" platform. His protectionist rhetoric and disputes about the benefits of free trade are likely to rank high on the agenda of the G20 summit in Hamburg.
(Reporting by Joseph Nasr and Paul Carrel; Editing by Angus MacSwan)