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Is U.S. President Donald Trump friend or foe of the G7? These summits began as the G6 in 1975 because leaders trusted each other enough to hash out differences and economic imbalances in fireside chats at a French château in Rambouillet.

At this week’s G7 summit in La Malbaie, Que., there’s a G6 that sees the U.S. President as attacking them with heavy trade tariffs on steel and aluminum – and there’s little sign of the kind of trust that can bridge the differences.

There were briefly rumours in Washington that Mr. Trump might even skip it. Some diplomats from G7 countries still guess the President may come Friday, but ditch the two-day confab before he has even stayed 24 hours, leaving Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to take his place. Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly tried to speak plainly with Mr. Trump about the tariffs, but the call ended in acrimony.

A Canadian official assured reporters Tuesday he’d spoken to the White House that very morning about the President’s visit, but the official demurred when asked whether the President will stick around Saturday.

The traditional closing communiqué is a conundrum, too. They can have a unified G6 statement, or a watery G7 communiqué – perhaps agreeing on North Korea and plastic pollution in oceans, and you know, glossing over the global economy.

On trade and global economic rules, there isn’t much trust inside the G7 right now.

About 15 years ago, there was a U.S. game show called Friend or Foe?, which gave two contestants a choice between co-operating to split prize money or trying to steal the whole prize. If both, choosing in secret, declare themselves a Friend, each would win half the money. If both chose Foe, neither would win. If one chose Friend, and the other Foe, the Foe would “steal” all the loot.

That’s a version of the so-called “prisoner’s dilemma” in game theory that’s sometimes used to describe trade. If one country tries to beat another to the spoils by imposing a protectionist tariff, it might gain big; if both countries impose protectionist tariffs, they both lose in a trade war. But if both co-operate to drop tariffs, instituting free trade, they both reap benefits from trade.

When it comes to trade, Mr. Trump must now be seen by other G7 leaders as more Foe than Friend. He wants to be the winner who takes all.

The U.S. President often claims he’s trying to fix unfair trade. He has argued the large U.S. trade deficits, notably with China, but also with Mexico and others, are signs those countries practise unfair trade.

While most mainstream economists insist trade deficits don’t matter, especially bilateral trade deficits, it’s not unreasonable for a U.S. president to argue China doesn’t provide two-way market access. It’s not unheard of for presidents to fret about imbalances, either. At the 2009 G20 summit in Pittsburgh, in the wake of the global financial crisis, U.S. president Barack Obama pushed for measures to encourage “balanced growth,” such as encouraging China to increase domestic demand for goods. Mr. Trump might have asked the G7 to co-operate a little.

Steel and aluminum send another message. Mr. Trump didn’t just impose them on China, but on the G7 allies. He imposed them on countries with whom the U.S. does not have a large trade deficit, such as Britain and Canada. In Canada’s case, he openly used tariffs as leverage for a “better” NAFTA deal.

That sure looks like a Foe, in the game-show sense. The President isn’t interested in splitting the prize. His new NAFTA would include a provision to reopen the deal every five years, to play Friend or Foe again.

The new G6, including Canada, is coming to the conclusion there’s nothing to work out with Mr. Trump on trade. They’ll suffer pain from tariffs, and respond in kind. Those G6 leaders could confront Mr. Trump in La Malbaie this weekend. But they might just accept a weak G7 statement, and hope two years will be enough to wait out Mr. Trump. There’s not enough trust to hash out differences.

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