Donald Trump was not a very popular fellow among our allies before the G7 summit in Canada and he is even less so now.
Trump left the summit a few hours early in order to fly to Singapore and prepare for his summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. But before he left, he made an extraordinary proposal that U.S. allies drop all tariffs, all subsidies, and all barriers to free trade.
It was extraordinary because just a few hours earlier, the American president had it out with U.S. trading partners.
“The United States has been taken advantage of for decades and decades,” Trump said at a press conference on the second day of a two-day summit in Canada.
He said he had suggested to the other G7 leaders that all trade barriers, including tariffs and subsidies, be eliminated.
“You go tariff-free, you go barrier-free, you go subsidy free,” he said. “I did suggest it and people I guess were going to go back to the drawing board.”
Trump denied that the summit had been contentious, a remark that contradicted what one G7 official described as a bitter harangue on Friday between the U.S. president and his counterparts over tariffs.
In an “extraordinary” exchange, Trump repeated a list of grievances about U.S. trade, mainly with the EU and Canada, a French presidency official told reporters.
“And so began a long litany of recriminations, somewhat bitter reports that the United States was treated unfairly, that the trading system was totally unfavorable to the United States, the American economy, American workers, the middle class,” the official said.
“In short, a long, frank rant which is undoubtedly very unusual in this kind of formats,” the official added.
Wherever Trump goes, the descriptive “undoubtedly very unusual” could apply.
French President Emmanuel Macron responded in a “courteous but very firm tone” to present the European side of the story, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe chimed in as well, the official said.
Despite the apparent acrimony, it is likely that the G7 – which groups the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Japan – will issue a final communique at the end of the summit, a diplomatic source said.
The notion that after all the acrimony there will be a uniting document — a “communique” — highlights the dilemma of all U.S. trading partners.
We are the 800 lb. gorilla in any diplomatic gathering simply because we are the largest, most powerful country in the world. Macron and Trudeau can bitch and whine all they want, but when it comes to international trade, there is no “going it alone” for the EU or any trading bloc. You don’t leave $15 trillion (US GDP) on the table and walk away. So, in essence, if you want to play the game, you have to play by U.S. rules.
Trump’s rules. Trump’s bombast and threats notwithstanding, the Europeans and Japan find themselves being able to do little more than complain about how impolite Trump is. When it comes to carrying through on their threats to retaliate for increased U.S. tariffs, they may impose new tariffs of their own, but all countries know that despite all, the U.S. holds the upper hand in any negotiations on trade.