QUEBEC CITY — The G7 looks like it might need a new name: the G6 vs. 1.
As leaders began flying in to Canada on Thursday, it was clear this years meeting would largely serve as a showcase of just how thoroughly Trump has shaken things up, fomenting disagreement and disarray 0n topics that had long given the worlds industrialized powers common cause and purpose.
And yet, as dismayed as they have been by Trumps actions over the past 18 months — his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, his abandoning of the Iran nuclear deal, his ignition of a trade war by imposing steel and aluminum tariffs — other leaders would have been even more distraught if Trump had skipped the G7 meeting. That could have signaled that the multilateral system they believe in was in danger of collapse.
It is a cant live with him, cant live without him paradox, and it seems unlikely to end any time soon.
Among the G7 — or rather the G6 vs. 1 — the disputes are starkest on trade.
It hasnt helped.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who stopped off in Ottawa to visit Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before heading to Le Manoir Richelieu, the summit site two hours north of Quebec City, spent much of a press conference answering questions about Trump. He denounced U.S. tariffs as “unilateral and illegal” while also acknowledging that he has been criticized for being too nice to Trump.
“In this environment, we have to remain polite, courteous, productive,” Macron said. “We have to try to convince the United States. Of course, this is our historical ally and we need them.”
Macron said that the G7 were stronger together, and that Trump risked damaging the reputation of the U.S., but he also said the six were willing to stand apart.
“Maybe the American president does not mind being isolated today,” Macron said. “We do not mind being six if need be.”
As a result, leaders seem likely to issue a milquetoast final statement on Saturday, in which they claim to agree on core values of freedom, democracy, rule-of-law and human rights, and express common support on issues like gender equality and womens empowerment, but can voice little in the way of substantive, shared ambition for the international order.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police in traditional uniforms greet journalists at the international media center | Martin Ouellet-Diotte/AFP via Getty Images
Thats if they can reach agreement at all. They could fail to find consensus, as occurred at a meeting of G7 finance ministers last week.
“There is no point in hiding that for many, not least the media, the main story of the coming Charlevoix Summit is about the disagreement within the G7, or to put it more precisely, disagreements between the U.S. and the rest of the group,” an EU official said this week before leaving Brussels for Quebec.
The official said Trumps policies were “leading at the end of the day to more fundamental questions of our common approach to a rules-based international order.” But the official added, “We are fully aware that stakes are high, too high to allow emotions to prevail.”
And yet, Trump is so far out of step with his fellow leaders that one official involved in the drafting of the leaders declaration said there is concern that the U.S. would object to any use of the phrase “climate change.”
The official expressed satisfaction that Canadas official program formally listed one of the working sessions on Saturday morning as a discussion on “climate change and clean energy” — to illustrate that the issue remains a priority for everyone else.
Among the G7 — or rather the G6 vs. 1 — the disputes are starkest on trade. Many of the other leaders are still bristling over Trumps unilateral imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminum, which has set off a trade war by prompting Canada and the EU to impose retaliatory levies.
This year, a number of White House officials who had tried to temper Trumps views have gone — dismissed or resigned.
At last weeks G7 finance ministers meeting, instead of a common declaration, Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau issued a statement on behalf of the G6 expressing “concern and disappointment” at the U.S. tariffs.
Trudeau, at his joint news conference with Macron on Thursday, insisted he is taking the high road. “Since the beginning, I have done what Canadians have expected of their prime minister, I have been polite and respectful. But I have always been very firm on Canadas interests and in terms of our values as well. This approach will continue.”
It was a far more restrained Trudeau than the one who sounded off immediately after Trumps announcement about the tariffs, when he said Trump was out of step with the American public. “This is not about the American people,” he said. “We have to believe that at some point their common sense will prevail. But we see no sign of that in this action today by the U.S. administration.”
Trump expected to leave early
As the war of words escalated between Trump and the other leaders, the White House announced on Thursday night that Trump will leave the G7 summit before its conclusion. Trump will be depart the summit in Quebec at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and head directly to Singapore, the site of his June 12 meeting with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. The G7 summit is scheduled to wrap up later on Saturday.
In a post on Twitter late Thursday, Trump lashed out at summit host Trudeau, calling him “indignant” and complaining that Canada imposes high tariffs on U.S. dairy imports.
Earlier Trump had fired shots at Trudeau and Macron on Twitter, accusing them of “charging the U.S. massive tariffs,” escalating the tension ahead of meeting them on Friday. “Look forward to seeing them,” Trump added.
Please tell Prime Minister Trudeau and President Macron that they are charging the U.S. massive tariffs and create non-monetary barriers. The EU trade surplus with the U.S. is $151 Billion, and Canada keeps our farmers and others out. Look forward to seeing them tomorrow.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 7, 2018
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had also sought to lower expectations for the Quebec summit. “It is apparent that we have a serious problem with multilateral agreements here, and so there will be contentious discussions,” Merkel told the German parliament on Wednesday.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau boards a Canadian Forces Challenger | Geoff Robins/AFP via Getty Images
Last year, White House officials persuaded Trump to delay his decision on the Paris climate accord until after the G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, which helped avert major discord at the gathering. And in the final declaration of that meeting, officials succeeded in preserving the blocs traditional language on fighting protectionism.
But this year, a number of White House officials who had tried to temper Trumps views have gone — dismissed or resigned. And Trumps decisions, including on the Iran deal and on moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, have created a wide breach with allies.
In a sign of the deep consternation over Trumps policies, EU officials said European leaders were contemplating their own meeting on the sidelines in Quebec, that would include Macron, Merkel, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, European Council President Donald Tusk, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and new Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who is making his debut in the international arena.
The European leaders see each other often but one official said there is heightened concern about developing a “common line” toward Trump.
U.S. President Donald Trump | Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images
And yet, even as other leaders fretted, it is clear that the G7 meeting was just a pit stop for Trump.
In a press appearance at the White House with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, Trump declared excitedly, “It looks like the meeting is set. The summit is all ready to go, subject always to change.”
He wasnt talking about the G7 but his meeting with the North Korean leader.
Still, Trump didnt waste the opportunity to take further digs on the trade issue.
“Obviously, we buy a lot of things from Japan, particular automobiles,” Trump said, according to the White House transcript. “Well have to talk about that. But we are buying a lot of things from Japan. So were going to be talking about our trade deficit that we have with Japan.”
“Then were going up to the G7 very shortly, as you know, in Canada,” Trump added. “And well be having some further discussions in addition to other countries being there with us. But well have some pretty good discussions.”