LA MALBAIE, Quebec — U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday floated the idea of ending all tariffs and trade barriers between the U.S. and its G7 allies — an unexpected pitch that comes amid a tit-for-tat trade war Trump recently launched.
Trump offered the aspirational proposal at the end of a contentious meeting on trade disputes at the G7 summit in Quebec, an annual gathering of the leaders from seven major industrialized nations. During the private gathering, Europes major economic powers pushed back hard against Trumps repeated assertions that the U.S. is a victim of unfair trade practices.
“We should at least consider no tariffs, no barriers — scrapping all of it,” Trump said, according to officials who were listening and taking notes.
Trump floated the idea — which was received as somewhat rhetorical — as the meeting was breaking up and was quickly challenged by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who asked, “What about subsidies?”
The other G7 leaders — from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, as well as the presidents of the European Commission and European Council — have been trying to impress upon Trump the complexity of trade issues, insisting that his oft-repeated complaint about the trade imbalance between the U.S. and allies on many manufactured goods is only part of the picture.
Tensions between the U.S. and the other G7 countries have become inflamed in recent weeks as Trump imposed steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the European Union and Canada for what the White House says are national security reasons. Japan has been paying those tariffs since March, but the other countries were initially granted an exemption that Trump let lapse June 1. Other leaders have since retaliated with their own tariffs on American goods.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded positively to Trumps suggestion Friday, telling him: “Well take it as a starting point.”
Such a sweeping end to tariffs and trade barriers is typically the result of a landmark free trade agreement. The U.S. and the EU had been contemplating just such a deal, called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, but it was abandoned after Trump won the 2016 election. Three days after taking office, Trump formally withdrew the U.S. from another such landmark deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Obama administration negotiated with 11 Pacific rim nations.
After an angry tirade on Twitter on Thursday night, in which he lashed out at Trudeau, the summit host, and French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump used the afternoon session to run through his litany of complaints, citing specific trade deficits between the U.S. and allies in certain sectors.
European leaders, who had met to coordinate how they would handle the combustible American president, pushed back hard, but also heaped praise on Trump, hoping to butter him up. For example, they told Trump that millions of European citizens own Apple iPhones.
The leaders came armed with an array of their own statistics aimed at demonstrating to Trump that he was not right to view the U.S. as a victim. Macron, in particular, implored Trump to understand that tariffs alone were not a cause of trade imbalances. He explained that France runs trade deficits with Germany and the United Kingdom on manufactured goods, even though all three countries are part of the EU single market and have zero tariffs between them.
“Why is this happening?” Macron asked, according to an official. “Because French like German cars.”
Officials said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker offered to visit Washington to continue addressing Trumps concerns, but that Trump had not responded to the suggestion.
Megan Cassella contributed to this report.