BUENOS AIRES — Trade ministers from the Group of 20 countries said Friday that there was an “urgent” need to overhaul the World Trade Organization, which President Trump has threatened to withdraw the United States from.
The statement by the G20 ministers after a meeting in Argentina was a tacit acknowledgment by world leaders that Mr. Trump’s criticism of the W.T.O. and his tariffs have significantly weakened the international trading system. Just two years earlier, when Barack Obama was still president, the G20 trade ministers, who represent countries including China, Japan and the United States, called on world leaders to further reduce barriers to trade.
Diplomats had said they hoped to use the trade ministers meeting in Mar del Plata, a coastal city, to defuse trade tensions — and they claimed a modicum of victory on that score on Friday.
“The fact that we are talking about the reform of the World Trade Organization means that we all agree that we need to have an organization that allows us to establish rules and allows us to work within the framework of international trade,” Jorge Faurie, the foreign minister of Argentina, said at a news conference.
What the overhaul will entail, however, remains a mystery.
The United States and the European Union agree that the W.T.O. is dysfunctional, but they disagree on what should be done to fix it. The Trump administration has blocked the reappointment of judges to the W.T.O.’s dispute resolution panel, threatening to cripple it.
“The E.U., along with many partners, wishes to see political support from the G20 to strengthen the W.T.O.’s negotiating, monitoring and dispute settlement functions,” the European Commission said in a statement Friday.
In a reflection of how much things have changed since Mr. Trump took office, the statement issued Friday afternoon was much less detailed than the one the G20’s trade ministers agreed to in 2016 in Shanghai.
Then, the ministers agreed to “further work towards trade liberalization and facilitation.” There was no such language in Friday’s statement, a week after Mr. Trump threatened China with another round of tariffs.
The Trump administration broke with the longstanding international consensus on free trade soon after Mr. Trump took office, when G20 finance ministers and central bankers met in Germany.
At the insistence of Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, the communiqué issued at the end of that meeting in March 2017 did not include the usually commonplace commitment to open trade. The statement also omitted boilerplate language condemning protectionism that was used in the past.
That was the beginning of a steady deterioration in the tone of summit meetings that culminated in June when Mr. Trump refused to sign a joint statement with American allies after a meeting of the more exclusive Group of 7 in Canada. As he flew away from the meeting, Mr. Trump tweeted that Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, was “very dishonest and weak.”
Most countries sent cabinet-level officials this week to Mar del Plata, but the United States was represented by Dennis Shea, the deputy United States trade representative.
Robert Lighthizer, the trade representative, was said to be focusing on talks with Canada, which also did not send its recently appointed trade minister, Jim Carr.
The event in Mar del Plata was one of several issue-specific meetings taking place in Argentina ahead of a November summit meeting of G20 leaders in Buenos Aires.
Daniel Politi reported from Buenos Aires and Jack Ewing reported from Frankfurt.