Scott Morrison got his trade point across at the G20 but ongoing tensions between China and the United States watered down the summit’s key messages.
The group of nations agreed to reform the World Trade Organisation, just two weeks after the US and China could not agree on it at another key summit.
But the G20’s annual commitment to fighting protectionism in the global economy was missing, as the US and China continue to slap tariffs on each other.
“Sometimes the progress is made simply by bringing issues to a head,” Mr Morrison told reporters before leaving Buenos Aires on Saturday local time.
Australia got a commitment from all nations to work on reforming the WTO to better deal with the digital economy and disputes between nations.
The official communique also committed countries to dealing with climate change, except for the United States, which reserved its right to use all energy sources to pursue economic growth.
But for the first time in 10 years the G20 did not explicitly condemn protectionism.
“I think this is actually a sign we’re moving on from those ideological discussions,” Mr Morrison said.
“I don’t think anybody is about protectionism.”
This year, Australia had to scramble to avoid US President Donald Trump’s hiked tariffs on steel, while he is threatening even more tariffs against China in January.
President Trump met Chinese President Xi Jinping in a two-hour working dinner on Saturday, and Mr Morrison said Mr Trump was working on a solution to the trade war.
“I think he very much wants to break the impasse. I think ultimately he wants to be able to come to a new deal, that’s been his whole point,” he said.
Mr Morrison and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also spoke about the ongoing grief their two countries share from the MH17 disaster.
Australia and the Netherlands led the investigation into the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines flight over the Ukraine in 2014, which claimed citizens from both countries.
“I once said the only positive coming out of the terrible tragedy of MH17 is the strong bond between Australia and the Netherlands,” Mr Rutte said.
“How are the families in Netherlands today?” Mr Morrison asked him.
“It’s difficult, some of them are in really bad shape, some are trying to get on with life,” Mr Rutte replied.
Mr Morrison also met earlier with United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May, where he praised her for handling the tough Brexit negotiations.
“I think you’re showing great resilience and great determination to resolve what is one of the most vexed issues there is,” Mr Morrison said.