“The gig is up,” Donald Trump told G7 leaders in Jimmy Cagney style. The six other leaders knew it, too: they’d have to change after years of using unfair trade practices against the U.S. They smiled – presumably sheepishly – when the US president confronted them because “they couldn’t believe they had got away with it.”
That’s the way President Trump told the tale, at a lengthy, freewheeling press conference at the G7 summit in La Malbaie, Que. Funny thing is, the other members of the G7 didn’t remember any of that.
The U.S. president showed up late for the first meeting Saturday, skipped out of the summit before lunch, and by then it seemed like his mind was on the next thing, a meeting with North Korea’s leader. In the meantime Mr. Trump apparently attended a different G7 summit from everyone else. Then he blew it up from afar.
As it ended, the other leaders walked out admitting the summit hadn’t bridged differences on trade or Mr. Trump’s unilateral tariffs on steel and aluminum, but they said they had stated their position firmly, and at least they had been able to talk. Mr. Trudeau said he’d told the U.S. president he didn’t have much choice but to impose his own retaliatory tariffs. Canada, he said, can’t be pushed around.
And then Mr. Trump, in a tweet, blasted Mr. Trudeau and threatened a whole new set of tariffs on cars. And he repudiated the G7 communiqué his delegation had already approved.
It capped the day. Mr. Trump kept on surprising G7 colleagues, who seemed to think they could at least talk to him in meeting rooms, but watched him blow up outside.
He left after both threatening to cut off all trade with other G7 countries and declaring his relationships with the leaders of other G7 countries a 10.
At one point in his press conference, the US president said he’d proposed that all G7 countries drop all tariffs, trade barriers, and subsidies – probably a surprise to U.S. farmers who’d lose billions, but definitely a surprise to G7 delegations that didn’t receive such a proposal.
On NAFTA, Mr. Trump declared that the U.S. and Canada, and Mexico, are “pretty close” to agreeing on a controversial sunset provision that would see a NAFTA 2.0 agreement renegotiated every five years, but Canadian officials said they told U.S. counterparts they were adamantly opposed. “That’s not on the table,” Mr. Trudeau said at his closing press conference.
It seemed unimaginable that Mr. Trump’s view could be squared with the other six in a final communiqué that would have to bridge seven nations, five languages, and two alternate realities. But somehow the diplomats did it with some artful language on issues like Iran and trade.
“The president will continue to say what he says, on various occasions,” Mr. Trudeau shrugged at his closing press conference.
Then a few hours later, Mr. Trump tweeted a blast a Mr. Trudeau, saying his statements were “dishonest and weak” – and he was now instructing U.S. officials to repudiate the G7 communiqué they had already accepted. And he threatened “tariffs on automobiles flooding the U.S. market.”
The drama, everyone else kept insisting, wasn’t the same behind closed doors.
The leaders’ Friday-night session on trade wasn’t the capitulation from other nations Mr. Trump described, according to officials from other G7 countries.
Mr. Trump did kick it off by insisting the U.S. was being treated unfairly, but France’s President Emmanel Macron responded with a short list of U.S. protectionist barriers to make the point it wasn’t a one-way street. Other European leaders followed with their own lists. They insisted the international trading system of the World Trade Organization had to be maintained, but said they were willing to negotiate a reform of its flaws.
In separate meeting Canadian officials told Mr. Trump’s advisors that the steel and aluminum tariffs had made it politically impossible for Canada to close NAFTA negotiations. Finance Minister Bill Morneau, said in an interview that the place to solve trade problems is in NAFTA talks. “And we can’t move on tariffs.” Despite Mr. Trump’s public declarations, Mr. Morneau said, “at the table, the listening that we’re witnessing provides us with, we think, an opportunity for continued negotiation.”
Or so they thought. Only hours later, flying away from the summit, the U.S. President declared he wanted nothing to do with the G7’s agreements anymore – and suggestd there just might be a bigger trade war on the way.