The G7 summit ended in farce and a renewed threat trade war Saturday as US President Donald Trump rejected an attempt to write a consensus statement and bitterly insulted the Canadian host.
Just minutes after a joint communique that had been approved by the other leaders of the Group of Seven allies was published, Trump launched a Twitter broadside from aboard Air Force One.
The US leader had left the summit early en route for Singapore and a historic nuclear summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, only to take exception to comments made by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a news conference on the ground in Quebec.
“Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive Tariffs to our US farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our US Reps not to endorse the Communique as we look at Tariffs on automobiles flooding the US Market!” Trump tweeted.
“PM Justin Trudeau of Canada acted so meek and mild during our @G7 meetings only to give a news conference after I left saying that, ‘US Tariffs were kind of insulting’ and he ‘will not be pushed around.’ Very dishonest & weak.”
Earlier, Trudeau had told reporters that Trump’s decision to invoke national security to justify US tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum was “insulting” to Canadian veterans who had stood by their US allies in conflict’s dating back to World War I.
“Canadians are polite and reasonable but we will also not be pushed around,” he said.
And he said he had told Trump “it would be with regret but it would be with absolute clarity and firmness that we move forward with retaliatory measures on July 1, applying equivalent tariffs to the ones that the Americans have unjustly applied to us.”
“If the expectation was that a weekend in beautiful Charlevoix surrounded by lovely people was going to transform the president’s outlook on trade and the world, then we didn’t quite perhaps meet that bar,” Trudeau said.
After Trump’s tweets, Trudeau’s office said the prime minister’s criticism was merely a reiteration of comments made in their own meetings.
“We are focused on everything we accomplished here at the #G7 summit,” said a statement from the Canadian premier’s office released on Twitter.
“The Prime Minister said nothing he hasn’t said before — both in public, and in private conversations with the President.”
Despite the tension and determination of European leaders President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to push back on Trump’s assault on the world trade system, when Trump left it was thought a compromise had been reached.
Officials from European delegations quickly leaked copies of the joint statement to AFP, and it was published publicly online before Trump tweeted. Copies that begin “We, the Leaders of the G7” were distributed in the press room stamped “Approved.”
But Trump’s outburst suggested that any deal had collapsed, and his more or less explicit threat to impose sanctions on imports of cars will outrage his ostensible allies — in particular Germany and Canada who produce many for the large US market.
In retrospect, the consensus had appeared shaky from the outset, and even as Trump flew out it was clear that the summit had failed to heal the rift on trade.
Trump claimed America had been obliged to levy the metals tariffs as it has been exploited as the world’s “piggy bank” under existing arrangements, but his counterparts were equally determined to protect “rules-based” international trade.
‘The gig is up’
The joint communique that was thrashed out over two days of negotiations vowed that members would reform multilateral oversight of commerce through the World Trade Organization (WTO) and seek to cut tariffs.
“We commit to modernize the WTO to make it more fair as soon as possible. We strive to reduce tariff barriers, non-tariff barriers and subsidies,” it said, reflecting the typical language of decades of G7 statements.
Trump had already said he would not hesitate to shut countries out of the US market if they retaliate to his tariffs.
“The European Union is brutal to the United States … They know it,” he insisted in his departing news conference. “When I’m telling them, they’re smiling at me. You know, it’s like the gig is up.”
European officials said Trump had tried to water down the language in the draft final summit communique on the WTO and rules-based trade.
In the end, that language stayed in and it was only on climate change that no consensus was reached.
The US team would not countenance signing off on a pledge to implement the Paris Climate accord, which Trump’s Washington wants no part of.
European leaders had put a brave face on the results.
“For us, it was important to have a commitment to rules-based trade,” Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country will host next year’s summit in Biarritz, said work would continue.
At the summit, Trump played a wild card, suggesting that rather than both sides boosting retaliatory tariffs — as he has just done on steel and aluminum — they could declare for entirely free trade in the G7 zone.
“It’s got to change. It’s going to change. I mean, it’s not a question of ‘I hope it changes.’ It’s going to change, a hundred percent… We’re like the piggy bank that everybody is robbing. And that ends,” Trump said.
“No tariffs, no barriers. That’s the way it should be. And no subsidies. I even said, ‘no tariffs!'” Trump insisted. “That would be the ultimate thing, whether or not that works, but I did suggest it.”
Trump’s utopian idea was greeted with skepticism, but he appeared to take it seriously, arguing that the United States had been taken for a ride by the rest of the world.
The summit was wrapping up just as Chinese President Xi Jinping began hosting the leaders of Russia and Iran at a regional security meeting in a symbol of the power-play between East and West.