President Donald J. Trump broadsided his allies and upended a Group of Seven (G-7) meeting just as it wound up—disavowing a joint statement the United States had agreed to, lashing out at Canada’s Justin Trudeau and ratcheting up trade tensions.
Trump fired off a pair of tweets several hours after leaving the summit in Canada to fly to Singapore for another on North Korea.
Trudeau and other leaders had given closing press conferences and announced a US-backed joint G-7 statement.
Minutes after that statement was published online, Trump complained about comments made by Trudeau and revoked his support.
“I have instructed our US Reps not to endorse the Communiqué as we look at Tariffs on automobiles flooding the US Market!” Trump tweeted on Saturday evening, saying he was responding to Trudeau.
“Very dishonest & weak,” he said of the Canadian leader.
His comments undermine the G-7, a bloc that was once a pillar of US foreign policy and has long acted as a defender of the global economic system.
It could also cause fresh friction with his northern neighbor as tensions percolate over efforts to redraw the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). And it could even undercut the upcoming North Korea summit—Trump effectively backed out of a deal with allies while traveling to try and reach a deal with a foe.
“It’s a brutal blow to a summit of significant success, both in substance and in presentation,” said John Kirton, director of the University of Toronto’s G-7 Research Group. The brief glow of this year’s summit “has been destroyed, for now and probably for good.”
The president’s reference to cars is not new. Trump last month directed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to initiate a national-security investigation into imports of cars, trucks and vehicle parts that could possibly lead to tariffs.
Canada would be among the biggest losers from such a move as the second-largest source of US vehicle imports. The top source is the other Nafta member, Mexico.
Image of cooperation
But the remarks came shortly after Trudeau, the G-7 host, had projected an image of cooperation.
At his closing press conference, he announced all G-7 nations had worked hard to finalize a joint statement, which largely committed them to keep talking on trade.
“Those who doubted our capacity to work together will have seen our ability to deliver,” he said.
Trudeau also repeated statements he’d made earlier—calling US steel and aluminum tariffs “insulting” and pledging to proceed with previously announced retaliatory tariffs.
Trump said that retaliation is a “mistake,” according to Trudeau.
Canada is “polite, we’re reasonable but we also will not be pushed around,” Trudeau added. Trump’s tweets cited those comments.
Trudeau’s office responded to the tweets with a written statement, saying the prime minister’s comments in public and in private with Trump were “nothing he hasn’t said before” and that he was “focused on everything we accomplished here at the G-7 summit.” Trudeau himself declined to comment during an appearance with Argentina’s president.
“Good to see you guys,” Trudeau said to journalists asking for reaction. “It’s a beautiful evening, a great weekend.”
French President Emmanuel Macron declined to comment. A senior United Kingdom government official said Theresa May’s government stands by commitments made in the communiqué.
“I think they’ll all come down on Trudeau’s side” with the possible exception of Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Kirton said. “This is clearly six versus one.”
Even before Trump’s shock reversal, Macron bemoaned the lack of G-7 unity, giving a hint that the tensions hadn’t been put to rest. Trump had at one point proposed that G-7 nations eliminate all tariffs, barriers and subsidies.
“I heard President Trump say he wants maximum trade and minimum tariffs for G-7 members. Be my guest,” Macron told reporters last Saturday. “We need seven to dance that tango, and the next move needs to be made by the one who first took a step backward.”
Copies of the communiqué stamped with “approuve,” or approved in French, were being circulated around the G-7 media center in Quebec City, as Trump made his order on Twitter. The statement had been published online minutes before Trump’s tweets.
Before Trudeau spoke and announced the communiqué, a US administration official told a pool reporter Trump had agreed to the communiqué.
Trump left the summit early last Saturday to head for a meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12.
“This bodes very poorly for the North Korea summit because it basically underlines the fact that Trump’s word means nothing,” said Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Trump’s tariff hikes and threats to proceed with new duties on Chinese goods have raised the prospect of a trade war—and of congressional intervention. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican, introduced legislation this month that would curb the president’s executive powers to impose tariffs.
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain tweeted a message to allies, saying the US is pro-free trade and “Americans stand with you, even if our president doesn’t.”
Kirkegaard said he hopes Congress takes back trade powers from the president.
“You cannot conduct international economic policy in this manner. First of all, to not have the guts to do it face to face, that’s one thing, but disavowing something you agreed to just a few hours ago is kindergarten stuff,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. I hope Republicans grow a spine, really.” The G-7 summit included ample discussion on Nafta—Trump said any new agreement would include some kind of sunset clause, which would kill the deal after five years unless all three countries agree to change or renew it.
Trudeau repeated that Canada won’t accept a sunset clause.