Trade issues were expected to cause tension at the annual G7 summit that began Friday in Quebec.
President Trump has angered Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as other U.S. allies that his tariffs target. The trade policies are diverting attention from the G7 summit's agenda of addressing economic, security and climate concerns. Analysts predicted that the countries might not be able to agree on a joint statement at the conclusion of the summit, as they usually do, because of the controversy. The representatives of some nations are suggesting they might issue a six-country statement, without U.S. support.
Bloomberg, citing a French official as its source, reported that President Emmanuel Macron is considering withholding his signature from any document that emerges from the talks. Macron is seeking changes in Trump's positions not only on trade, but also on climate change and the Iran nuclear-weapons agreement. “What this G7 is going to show is that the United States are alone against everyone, and especially alone against their allies,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire predicted.
In late May, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that the United States would impose a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tax on aluminum from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union. The news came as a shock to many, since most tariffs on U.S. and E.U. products are less than 3 percent. Foreign leaders were quick to threaten retaliation. Mexico pledged to slap tariffs on goods from the United States, while E.U. Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said Europe would “impose rebalancing measures” and other “necessary steps to protect the E.U. market.”
The consequences could be severe. The European Union, Canada, and Mexico are three of the United States' four largest trading partners. Among the American products that could be affected in a trade war are bourbon, jeans, and motorcycles. Farmers and other U.S. food producers are worried that they also could suffer.
On the eve of the summit, there were signs that Trump planned to be defiant in defense of his policies. “He’s sticking to his guns,” National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said. On Friday, the president vowed: “We are going to deal with the unfair trade practices. If you look what Canada, Mexico, the European Union, what all of them have been doing to us for many decades, we have to change it.” Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted: “Looking forward to straightening out unfair Trade Deals with the G-7 countries. If it doesn't happen, we come out even better.”
The president's personal animosity toward some G7 heads of state complicates negotiations. According to The Washington Post, Trump has told aides that he has an “uneasy rapport” with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and considers British Prime Minister Theresa May “too politically correct.” He has reportedly pledged not to be “lectured” by his counterparts.
Some observers feared that Trump would be distracted at the summit because he was preparing for a critical meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un the following week. Officials in the two countries finally decided to proceed with the on-again, off-again talks in an attempt to resolve a standoff over Kim's nuclear-weapons program. The United States wants full denuclearization, a demand the North Koreans have rejected.
Trump talked to reporters on Friday, before he boarded Air Force One for the trip to Canada. He declared that Russia, which was a member of the former G8 alliance, should be reinstated. The other member countries expelled Kremlin officials in 2014, in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions in Crimea. “Russia should be in this meeting,” Trump said. “Why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting? And I would recommend, and it's up to them, but Russia should be in the meeting, it should be a part of it. They should let Russia come back in.”
It was not the first time the president has had kind words for Russia, a longtime U.S. adversary. His cozy relationship with Putin, as well as some of his administration's policies affecting Russia, have raised eyebrows since the 2016 campaign. Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller continues to probe whether Trump's staff colluded with Russians to influence the outcome of the race. Investigators are also trying to determine whether the president obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey and later admitting he did so to thwart the bureau's inquiry into election-meddling by the Russians.
Trump made other news during his impromptu news conference on Friday by revealing that he was considering a pardon for the late boxer Muhammad Ali. “The power to pardon is a beautiful thing,' the president said. When asked whether he might give himself a pardon, he replied: “Yes, I do have an absolute right to pardon myself, but I will never have to do it because I didn't do anything wrong.”