Top U.S. allies scrambled Friday to keep a Group of Seven nations summit from veering off track as U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to deal with “unfair trade practices” by Canada and the European Union.
Washington’s partners in the G-7 have been reeling since the Trump administration last week imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, the EU and Mexico, prompting retaliation and raising the specter of a global trade war.
Canada, the host of the two-day summit in La Malbaie, Quebec, and the nation that has borne much of the brunt of Trump’s trade fusillades in recent days, is holding out hope that progress can be made on less controversial issues.
Asked whether Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s team was engaged in frantic damage control, a Canadian government official said it was always clear there would be disagreements at the summit over trade and relations with Russia.
Trump set the tone before leaving Washington Friday.
“We’re going to deal with the unfair trade practices. If you look at what Canada, and Mexico, the European Union – all of them – have been doing to us for many, many decades. We have to change it. And they understand it’s going to happen,” Trump said.
He also said that Russia should be attending the summit, an idea that was unlikely to gain much traction at the G-7 gathering, which groups Canada, the United States, Japan, Britain, Italy, France and Germany.
The EU is also attending.
“Why are we having a meeting without Russia in the meeting?” Trump asked.
“They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”
Trump arrived behind schedule and planned an early exit from the G-7 meeting.
Russia was ousted from the elite group in 2014 as punishment for President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.
In the U.S., special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in a bid to sway the 2016 presidential election in his favor.
Trump arrived Friday at the annual gathering, held this year at a picturesque Quebec resort, but will leave Saturday morning before the event is over, heading to Singapore for his highly anticipated summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The White House announced his travel plans after Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron signaled they would use the G-7 event to take a stance against new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
Trump and Trudeau had a cordial greeting Friday, shaking hands and smiling for photographers on the lawn outside the resort overlooking the St. Lawrence River.
The G-7 leaders were set to dine on Arctic char and buckwheat salad at a working lunch.
Trump also met briefly with Macron before the meeting officially started. Macron tweeted a short video of the two together, saying: “Sharing, reaching out, always, to promote the interests of the French people, and all those who believe in a world we can build together.”
Trump was due to hold other group and one-on-one meetings Friday, but missed his scheduled Macron sit-down due to his delayed arrival.
But the president appeared in no hurry to leave for Canada. He walked out of the White House more than half an hour late, spent time greeting supporters gathered on the South Lawn, and then proceeded to take questions from reporters for nearly 20 minutes. With a cool reception all but assured, Trump has complained to aides about even having to attend the G-7, especially since his Singapore summit with Kim is just days away. Leaving early Saturday morning, he will skip meetings about climate change, clean energy and ocean protection.
Under Trump, the United States has abandoned its traditional role in the G-7. His predecessors pressed for freer global trade and championed a trading system that required countries to follow World Trade Organization rules. Trump’s policies have been more protectionist and confrontational, driven by a perception that the United States has been the victim of poorly conceived trade deals.
“The rules-based international order is being challenged, not by the usual suspects, but by its main architect and guarantor: the United States,” European Council President Donald Tusk said.
Tension has been building over a year of policymaking that has distanced the U.S. from traditional allies, including Trump’s decisions to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and the international Iran nuclear agreement. His new tariffs – 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union – threaten to drive up prices for American consumers and companies and heighten uncertainty for businesses and investors around the globe.
Canada and other U.S. allies are retaliating with tariffs on U.S. exports. Canada is waiting until the end of the month to apply them with the hope the Trump administration will reconsider.
Critics argue that the growing U.S. isolation is risky at a time when Trump is making diplomatic overtures with North Korea and in the Middle East and could use the support of allies.
Sebastian Mallaby, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, described the relationships between the U.S. and the rest of the G-7 as at a “new level of crisis,” saying that it was not just about trade but “a general U.S. attitude toward the system.”
Despite the conflict, Mallaby predicted that the countries would still seek to work with the U.S., calling it “the indispensable country.”