The recent G7 summit accomplished far more than most realize. It unfortunately was not what most anyone wanted.
Donald Trump exits the stage after a campaign rally in 2016. Photo: Gage Skidmore, CC
When the G7 Summit in Quebec finished on Saturday, a joint communiqué was issued which had been signed by all the nations. That means Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States all approved the document. This was despite multiple angry outbursts from Trump which according to observers in the meeting room were making it close to impossible to discuss virtually anything in a rational manner.
That agreement spoke of “We, the Leaders of the G7” having come together in Charlevoix, Quebec, “guided by our shared values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights”. It spoke of their joint “commitment to eradicate poverty, advance gender equality, foster income equality, ensure better access to financial resources and create decent work and quality of life for all”. It talked of a shared need to “fight tax evasion and avoidance by promoting the global implementation of international standards and addressing base erosion and profit shifting”. Somehow it even managed to include the statement that they must support agreements made at the Hamburg G20 Summit regarding “the crucial role of a rules-based international trading system” and pledged to “continue to fight protectionism”.
On that last part one can imagine the careful selection of words to avoid saying anywhere that trade wars were bad while still committing to avoid them.
Then Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a press conference to close the event. He did the required thanking of everyone for their assistance in making this important meeting happen. After that, reportedly after being badgered extensively by Trump both behind the scenes at the summit as well as before it began, Trudeau called US tariffs against Canada “kind of insulting”, especially considering Trump used the excuse of national security to justify them. Trudeau further said his country would not be “pushed around”, and that Canada was moving forward with its retaliatory tariffs against the U.S.
When Trudeau was speaking live, Trump was already out the door on his way to Singapore to meet with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un for that historic meeting. After hearing what happened, Trump slammed Trudeau and backed out of the agreement. In a tweet after the event, Trump said, ““Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive Tariffs to our U.S. farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our U.S. Reps not to endorse the Communique as we look at Tariffs on automobiles flooding the U.S. Market!”
After the event, Trump’s team moved rapidly to back up what Trump said. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” on June 10 that Trudeau “really kind of stabbed us in the back”. He further objected to Trudeau’s holding a press conference after the G7 meetings as a “sophomoric play”, though it is hard to imagine Trump would have held back from something similar if the conference had been held on his own turf. “We were very close to making a deal with Canada on NAFTA, bilaterally perhaps, and then we leave and Trudeau pulls this sophomoric, political stunt for public consumption”, Kudlow also said during the CNN interview. With much agitation in his voice, Kudlow said, “Trudeau made an error. He should take it back. He should pull back from his statements.”
Trudeau is not likely to back down. Neither are his peers, based on comments already made by President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
After the summit was concluded, Macron shot back at Trump that international relations could not be “dictated by fits of anger and throwaway remarks”. He further said that “Trump did not want to be isolated. We managed to convince Trump that six plus one was feasible [indicating that a G7 without the U.S. could work] and he did not want that.”
In a separate interview after the meeting, Merkel called Trump’s decision to pull back his signature from the joint communiqué as “sobering and a bit depressing”. She also said in the same session that the European Union was planning its own basket of retaliatory actions against the U.S.’s 25 percent tariffs on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports. These will go into effect July 1.
The unity that Merkel, Macron, and Trudeau seem to be expressing is one of the important results of the summit. The ‘Trump effect’ in this and sessions like this seems more and more to be one where instead of Trump winning his point, his immoveable position tends to unite others. The remaining 6 members of the G7 have vowed to support their joint declaration despite the U.S. President’s actions. They also intend to proceed with a united front on retaliatory trade.
Sources close to the White House said that if Trump had not withdrawn his approval of the joint statement after Trudeau’s comments, it could have made him look weak just as he was heading to meet with Kim Jong-un. What Trump will likely never understand is that if he had instead worked to help pull together rather than divide the G7 on issues like trade, he could have walked into the North Korea meeting with an even stronger hand. He could have been able to say the 7 most powerful nations in the world were united with the United States in what he was there to accomplish.
Now, on both the negotiations with North Korea and in the international trade wars, Trump stands alone.