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Trump trade war threat sets up G7 summit clash

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron (R) arrive for their joint press conference in Ottawa
AFP

Ottawa (AFP) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron put Donald Trump on notice Thursday that they would not be intimidated at the upcoming G7 summit, as a trade war between Washington and its allies looms.

Past summits of the Group of Seven powers — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — have often been marred by anti-globalist demonstrations in the host city.

But as the leaders of the world’s richest democracies set off Thursday for Quebec on the eve of their annual meeting, the greatest threat to the liberal world order was due to be inside the fence.

Trump comes to this week’s G7 summit touting an America First agenda that hits US allies with stiff tariffs and threatens multilateral free trade deals.

His stance will receive such a hostile reception from the other leaders that some observers have suggested renaming the G7 summit the G6+1 — and Macron said they should not hesitate to reach agreements without Trump.

While both Macron and Trudeau have forged cordial relationships with Trump, they made it clear they would stand tall — especially in the face of US duties on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Europe, Japan and Mexico.

“The G7 is an opportunity for us to get together and have frank, open discussions among nations who have long been allies and friends,” Macron told reporters, with Trudeau at his side.

“There will be subjects on which the (US) president is not totally in sync with the others — I’m thinking of course of climate change and trade,” the French leader said.

“Our common goal is to try to find a text that can be signed by everyone,” he explained, but added that “the desire to sign a common G7 declaration must not outweigh the need to be mindful of the content.”

“We Europeans and the Japanese are not ready to give up everything to get” Trump’s signature, he said, adding that would be a “mistake.”

But Trump is not going to bend. 

“Getting ready to go to the G-7 in Canada to fight for our country on Trade (we have the worst trade deals ever made),” he tweeted Thursday.

– All-out trade war –

Trump may well be distracted by preparations for his June 12 summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, which will be in Singapore immediately after the rich-world talking shop in Canada.

But it seems likely that the US leader will enjoy a warmer encounter with the autocrat from Pyongyang than with his Canadian hosts and European and Japanese allies.

Leaders like Trudeau and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel admit it will be difficult to even agree on a joint communique at the two-day meeting.

Merkel said Wednesday that there would be “no compromise for its own sake” and that dropping the statement “may be the more honest way.”

“We know certainly that there will be frank and sometimes difficult discussions around the G7 table, particularly with the US president on tariffs,” the Canadian premier told reporters.

Canada’s Trade Minister Francois Philippe Champagne was blunter, declaring: “What we are seeing is that the world economic order is under pressure, under attack.”

Top White House economics advisor Larry Kudlow, in line with the long-standing expert consensus in the G7 industrialized democracies, opposed tariffs before joining Trump’s team, but now says he agrees that the trade status quo hurts America.

“Until we can have reciprocal relationships, we will not have free trade, and we will not have fair trade,” Kudlow said. 

Europe does not come to Quebec from a position of strength. Britain’s Theresa May is mired in endless Brexit negotiations and Italian premier Giuseppe Conte only formally took power on Wednesday.

The G7’s only Asian member, Japan, has close relations with the White House, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s support for Trump’s North Korean outreach has not seen his country spared the tariffs.

– End of the world order –

The G7 developed in part because the world’s rich powers — despite their supposed Cold War victory — became frustrated in working through the broader multilateral system with lesser rivals.

The globalized economy that they helped build had winners and losers, of course, but until Trump’s election, the United States was seen as the system’s uncontested leader and a major beneficiary. 

But now, according to Laurence Nardon of the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI), one of the main actors on the international stage is no longer following the same script. 

“It completely calls into question the international system,” she told AFP. “This G7 summit is a new act in the drama. So far, the six are standing strong, but Trump has not finished.”   

Since coming to office in January 2017, Trump has pulled the US out of the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and the TPP Pacific free trade deal.

The summit begins Friday in La Malbaie, in Charlevoix, north of Quebec, and runs until Saturday, when Trump flies on to Singapore.  

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