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G7 Gipfel in Kanada
Image: Reuters/B. Nelms

Trade war tensions mount ahead of G7 summit in Canada

Michael Knigge
June 8, 2018

Two former advisors from within the Canadian and US administrations have warned of the economic threat posed by US President Donald Trump ahead of the G7 summit in Canada, which kicks off today.


Roland Paris, a former top foreign policy advisor to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is chairing the G7 meeting that begins Friday, and Daniel Price, a former personal representative of George W. Bush at G8 and G20 summits, think there is a chance that US President Donald Trump might cancel his participation in the summit of world leaders at the last minute.

Their assessment underlines both the unpredictability of the US president and the state of affairs between the US and its major allies.

"It's unlikely, but anything is possible," said Paris, responding to whether he thought Trump could skip what is shaping up to be a moment of reckoning for the president who could face stiff blowback for his recent tariff decisions. Paris drafted the foreign policy strategy for the Trudeau administration prior to its 2015 election win.

Price, who served as President Bush's top international trade advisor and as his so-called "sherpa" in preparation for various international summits, added that a Trump cancellation would be "very unfortunate if it were to happen."

Deep divisions

The G7 summit, which will bring together the leaders of Canada, the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, comes at a time that many view as a moment of historic division between Washington and its major allies in North America, Europe and Asia.

Just days ago the Trump administration slapped stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports on five of its six G7 partners. It also recently kicked off a trade investigation that could trigger additional tariffs on imported cars.

The tariffs are based on what is widely seen as a spurious justification, namely that the imports present a threat to US national security, even though all countries present at the G7 meeting are NATO members alongside the US or have a long-standing security partnership with Washington like Japan.

Read more: Donald Trump's EU tariffs 'foolish' and 'damaging'    

While the tariffs, which Europe and Canada fought hard to prevent, are the most recent, they are just the last in an increasingly long list of deep disagreements between the US and its allies.

Not long before the tariff move, the Trump administration — again against the joint opposition of its allies — pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. And in a previous signature decision that rocked relations with its allies, Trump withdrew the US from the Paris climate accords after making his inaugural appearance at a G7 summit last year in Italy. 

G7 finance ministers in Whistler, Canada
Six of the seven G7 finance ministers publicly rebuked the US tariffsImage: picture-alliance/The Canadian Press/J. Hayward

Public rebuke

While Trump was already characterized in the US media as "the odd man out" at the last G7 meeting, divisions between the US president and the other leaders have only grown wider since.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau recently all failed to convince Trump not to impose tariffs on the allies. In a sign of how deep the rift is, six of the seven G7 finance ministers last weekend took the unusual step of issuing a joint a message rebuking Washington for imposing the tariffs.

"It is true that the administration's unilateral actions on trade against US allies are eroding the longstanding bonds of mutual trust," said Price.

"And when you take that together with the withdrawal from the JCPOA [the official acronym for the Iran deal — the eds.] and the threatened imposition of sanctions on our allies who want to preserve the deal, the US is looking increasingly isolated in the G7."

Read more: Iran deal: Compromise with US is 'far away,' says Germany

For Paris, the former Trudeau adviser, now a professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa, the current division between the US and Canada is more fundamental than any previous disagreements between the neighboring countries.   

Unprecedented low in US-Canadian ties

"I think the situation now is unprecedented in Canada-US relations," he said. "There have been moments of tensions before, but no US administration has ever characterized Canadian imports as threats to US national security."

Despite the friction between the US and its allies, which neither Price nor Paris said they believe will be resolved, they think the G7 meeting can still be valuable — if only to air the differences between the two sides. 

Still, the former top advisers are under no illusion that major tangible results, for example on trade, can be achieved at the meeting.  

Justin Trudeau, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump
Already at the previous G7 meeting in Italy Trump was characterized as 'odd man out'Image: picture-alliance/dpa/AP/E. Vucci

Avoiding conflict, 'open rupture' a success

"I would consider it a success if there is an honest and forthright exchange of views, and if it is brought home to the United States president how divisive and destructive his trade policy actions have been," said Price.

"Under the circumstances, I would consider this summit a success if it does not produce an open rupture between the United States and its allies," said Paris. "Everything else is gravy."

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