Trump's big trade-off
President Trump left early and accused other countries of 'robbing' the US through trade policies, writes Catherine Lucey
Exiting a world summit with characteristic bravado yesterday, US President Donald Trump delivered a stark warning to America's trading partners not to counter his decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Despite his sharp differences with US allies, the president insisted he has a "great relationship" with his foreign counterparts.
"If they retaliate, they're making a mistake," Trump declared before departing the annual Group of Seven summit in Canada for his meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un in Singapore on Tuesday.
Trump's abbreviated stay at this Quebec resort saw him continuing the same type of tough talk on trade as when he departed the White House, accusing the summit's host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, of being "indignant."
The summit came during an ongoing trade dispute with China and served as a precursor to his meeting with Kim, in which he has sought to extend a hand to the Asian autocrat who has long bedeviled the international order.
"His message from Quebec to Singapore is that he is going to meld the industrial democracies to his will - and bring back Russia," said Steve Bannon, Trump's former campaign and White House adviser. Bannon said China is "now on notice that Trump will not back down from even allies' complaints in his goal of 'America First.'"
Speaking during a rare news conference yesterday, Trump said he pressed for the G-7 countries to eliminate all tariffs, trade barriers and subsidies in their trading practices. He reiterated his longstanding view that the US has been taken advantage of in global trade, adding, "We're like the piggy bank that everybody's robbing and that ends."
He said US farmers had been harmed by tariffs and other barriers and warned that trading partners would need to provide him with more favorable terms. "It's going to stop or we'll stop trading with them," he said.
Trump cited progress on reaching an agreement on the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, saying the final outcome would lead either to an improved trade deal or separate pacts with the two US neighbours. Trump said he was discussing two types of sunset provisions in which any of the countries could leave the deal. A Canadian official said the leaders discussed accelerating the pace of the talks.
Prior to his arrival, the president injected additional controversy by suggesting that the G-7 offer a seat at the table to Russia, which was ousted from the group in 2014. Trump said yesterday that re-admitting Russia to the elite club would be "an asset," telling reporters, "we're looking for peace in the world." Trump said he had not spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a while.
Discussing Russia's absence, Trump made the vague comment that "something happened a while ago where Russia is no longer in. I think it would be an asset to have Russia back in." In fact, Russia was expelled from what was then the G-8 after its annexation of Crimea and its support for pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine.
Trump placed the blame on his predecessor Barack Obama. "He was the one who let Crimea get away - that was during his administration," he said, adding, "Obama can say all he wants, but he allowed Russia take Crimea. I may have had a much different attitude."
It's not clear what Trump thought Obama should have done to prevent Putin from sending in Russian troops to seize the Black Sea peninsula from neighboring Ukraine.
Trump departed the annual G-7 gathering after showing up late for a breakfast on gender equity and he missed sessions on climate change, clean energy and ocean protection. He left before any resolution was announced on the traditional joint statement from the seven industrialised nations in the group, which in addition to the US and Canada includes Britain, Italy, France, Germany and Japan.
Trump's recent moves, building on 18 months of nationalist policy-making, leave him out of step with the globally minded organization and prompted speculation that the group could fracture into something more like the "G-6 plus one".
A key question was whether the seven countries could agree on a joint statement of priorities at the conclusion of the meeting. Macron said Thursday on Twitter, "The American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a six country agreement if need be." Trump said on Friday he thinks the group will produce a joint statement.
In public, Trump bantered easily with his fellow leaders, but the meeting came at a tense moment in the relationships, with allies steaming over Trump's new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union.
Leading up to the meetings, Trump, Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron had suggested the potential for a tough tone, though they were cordial in face-to-face meetings.
Alluding to the tensions as he sat with Macron on Friday, Trump said: "We've had, really, a very good relationship, very special. A lot of people wrote a couple of things that weren't quite true. A little bit accurate, perhaps. We have a little test every once in a while when it comes to trade."
With Trudeau, Trump joked that "Justin has agreed to cut all tariffs and all trade barriers between Canada and the United States."
Macron said he and Trump held "open and direct" discussions, adding that he thought there was a way to get a "win-win" outcome on trade, though details remained unclear.