A G7 summit dominated by disagreement over trade between the US and its key allies has failed to deliver a breakthrough as the meeting entered its second and final day, report agencies. Trump added to the disunity before his arrival at the Quebec resort town of La Malbaie on Friday when he called for Russia to be readmitted into the informal annual gathering of seven advanced economies. The suggestion was quickly shot down by his European allies.
“Canada’s position is absolutely clear. That there are no grounds whatsoever for bringing Russia with its current behaviour back into the G7,” said Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. Her words echoed statements from France and Germany, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying Russia could not be readmitted until it had made “substantial progress” on Ukraine.
Trump’s suggestion was welcomed, however, by new Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who tweeted: “Russia should re-enter the G8. It is in the interests of all.” But even Russia itself seemed to have little interest in rejoining the forum. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a statement that “Russia is focused on other formats, apart from the G7”. Russia was suspended from the G8 after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
The rift over Russia threatened to overshadow the more pressing concern of a brewing trade war between the US and its key allies of the past decades. Tensions between the US and its G7 partners over trade and the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal were rife in the face of the summit which had been dubbed by some as “G6 plus one”, referring to an isolated US.
On May 31, the Trump administration confirmed it would apply additional tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from Canada, Mexico, and EU countries, ending a two-month exemption period. Some countries have announced retaliatory measures against the US by introducing tariffs of their own. Just hours before attending the summit, Trump tweeted about rectifying “unfair Trade Deals with the G-7 countries”.
On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron had tweeted “the American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a 6 country agreement if need be”. Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics said Trump risks isolating himself with his controversial trade policies.
“This isn’t the 1930s where everybody levied a lot of tariffs on everybody else,” Kirkegaard said. “This is the US levying tariffs on everybody else and then everybody else retaliating on the US,” he added.
“What this will look like in 2018 and potentially beyond is a more and more economically and politically isolated America, but the rest of the world is pretty much carrying on to the best of its ability just without the US.”
Despite the tough talk, diplomats have described the ongoing discussions as “cordial and productive”. Trump said at his meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau he believed the seven nations can hammer out a final communique. It is unclear whether a communique agreed by all will be released on Saturday. In front of the cameras, the leaders also struck a conciliatory tone. Sitting down with Trudeau, Trump said “the relationship is probably better, as good or better than it has hever been and I think we’ll get to something beneficial to Canada and the US”. French President Emmanuel Macron, who met Trump as well, tweeted: “Pursuing the conversation. Engaging, keeping the dialogue alive, now & ever.”
A French official told reporters that the EU and the US will establish a dialogue on trade within the next two weeks. “The principle of a dialogue was agreed this afternoon,” the official said on Friday. “Everyone agreed, including President Trump.” Trump will leave the summit early, departing to Singapore mid-morning for a highly anticipated meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.