US allies ready Trump showdown as trade splits G7

US President Donald Trump can expect a chilly reception when he hops across the border to Canada for a meeting of the world's richest industrialized nations
AFP

Quebec City (AFP) – America’s closest allies braced for a showdown with President Donald Trump at the G7 summit Friday, as anger at being slapped with trade tariffs by their most powerful member threatened to split the club.

Four days before Trump’s ice-breaking summit with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, the US president can expect a far chillier reception when he hops across the border to Canada for a meeting of the world’s richest industrialized nations.

Much of his fellow members’ anger stems from Trump’s recent imposition of tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, but relations had already been soured by the US pullout from an international climate accord and a deal designed to contain Iran’s nuclear program.

While the Trump administration has characterized their rift as a family quarrel, his fellow leaders appear to be itching for a fight with a US president — the G7’s traditional patriarch — during the two-day summit in the Canadian countryside. 

Trump himself is expected to be the last leader to arrive at the Group of Seven to arrive in French-speaking Quebec, trailing his counterparts from Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Japan as well as the host Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

And the White House confirmed that he would be the first to leave, flying out at 10:30am (1430 GMT) on Saturday.

Barely 500 days into his presidency, Trump has developed a knack for alienating his fellow leaders while pursuing his “America First” foreign policy, a pushback against a global trade system which he sees as working against US interests.

Even Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron — who have both previously shown a willingness to swallow their differences with Trump — have voiced their willingness to cut the US adrift if they cannot reach some kind of consensus at the summit.

– ‘Laughable’ policy –

“The American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a six country agreement if need be,” Macron said in a tweet on Thursday amid warnings that the summit may end without a joint statement from all G7 members.

“Because these six countries represent values, they represent an economic market which has the weight of history behind it and which is now a true international force,” added Macron after he had his one-to-one with Trudeau earlier in the day.

Trudeau told reporters that the US justification for the tariffs on steel and aluminum on national security grounds was “laughable”, triggering a riposte from Trump on Twitter.

“Please tell Prime Minister Trudeau and President Macron that they are charging the US massive tariffs and create non-monetary barriers,” he wrote on Thursday night. 

“The EU trade surplus with the US is $151 Billion, and Canada keeps our farmers and others out. Look forward to seeing them tomorrow.”

– European huddle –

Macron is to huddle with Britain’s Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italy’s new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ahead of their talks with Trump, as Europe seeks to forge a common approach.

Merkel has said that it may be “more honest” for the G7 to avoid coming up with a joint statement at the end if it means compromising its principles.

The bilateral meetings will precede a series of roundtable discussions before they all tuck into a dinner of lobster, asparagus and maple leaves nestled on a French brioche at the end of the first day of talks.  

The summit is being held in a luxury resort in the French-speaking province of Quebec, more than two hours’ drive away from the provincial capital which is where journalists and demonstrators have been largely restricted to.

Previous G7 summits have seen large-scaled anti-globalization protests. But even though he has made his criticism of globalization a major part of his appeal to voters, Trump was the main target of a protest by around 400 demonstrators on Thursday night who set fire to US and other G7 flags.

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